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French lawmakers approve disputed rail reform amid continued strikes

France rail
Transportation   454 out of 563 lawmakers endorsed the reform

The lower house of French parliament, the National Assembly, on Tuesday approved the government's proposal to reform the country's rail sector and revamp the debt-ridden SNCF rail company despite rail workers' rolling strikes in protest of the reforms.

A total of 454 out of 563 lawmakers endorsed the reform, with 80 deputies, notably those representing the hard left, against the legislation. Twenty-nine deputies abstained from voting.

The French government targets to open domestic rail passenger services to create dynamism in the sector in addition to new recruitment rules to create "a more efficient and unified" rail operator.

Besides, it proposed to scrap the preferential terms of rail workers, including retirement on full pension at 52, a decade earlier than other French employees.

"This ambitious reform ... is not intended to privatize the SNCF, ... close small lines, ... but its purpose is to get out of this status quo which is no longer acceptable," said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe earlier this month.

"Significant public commitments are made year after year ... As we increase the money that goes to SNCF, the quality of the public service is deteriorating," he added.

Denouncing the unfair reform, the country's key unions CGT, Unsa, Sud and CFDT started a series of nationwide rail strikes on April 3 that will last for months.

They have planned 36 days of industrial action between April and June, a move that may paralyze the eurozone's second largest power and the world's top tourism destination.

For the fourth wave of social action expected on Wednesday, SNCF said a third of high-speed trains would run and one out five of scheduled regional trains would be operational.

In the Ile-de-France region, one train out of four will operate after 32 percent of the state-run operator's workers stop working.

The Senate will vote on the reform by the end of next month.


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