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French rail strikes ease as Macron vows he won't back down

AFP  |  Paris 

The latest wave of France's rolling rail strikes got underway today, but with lighter disruption than last week as vowed to win his high-stakes battle with unions.

Train drivers and other staff launched three months of strikes on April 3 in a bid to force to back down on plans for an overhaul of the heavily indebted state rail operator

They are set to continue two days out of every five until June 28, causing havoc for France's 4.5 million daily train passengers. But insisted yesterday that he would push on with reforms designed to make the cheaper to operate as European passenger rail markets open to competition from 2020.

"I am going to see this through to the end," he told TF1 in his first public remarks on a standoff that commentators have compared to late British Margaret Thatcher's 1980s battle with coal unions.

A third of high-speed TGV and regional TER trains were running today, a marked increase on last week's strike when as few as one in eight TGVs ran as normal.

Eurostar services to were operating normally and trains towards and the were suffering only light disruption.

The ease in the strike action came as a relief to families as schools in the region as well as the southern cities of and headed off on holiday.

The said 38 per cent of the staff necessary for operating trains were taking part in today's strike -- a marked drop from 48 per cent in the first strikes last week, though a slight three percent increase from the second wave last Sunday.

Unions reacted angrily to Macron's speech, saying it made them even more determined to push on with their strike action.

The CGT union blasted him as "a who didn't say much, who in all likelihood has not got a good understanding of the reform plans, and who, far from reassuring us, has strengthened the determination of the rail workers".

The unions object to plans to deny new SNCF recruits benefits such as jobs for life and early retirement, and fear Macron's proposal to transform the operator into a state-owned joint stock company could eventually see it privatised.

Today, however, said there had been tentative steps forward in discussions between the two sides, notably in terms of how to open the network to foreign competitors.

"There have been a few openings on certain subjects," Berger told radio. "Now we need to move forward with the others.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, April 13 2018. 17:15 IST