French MPs adopt signature Macron rail reform
FRENCH lawmakers have overwhelmingly backed a controversial reform of indebted state rail operator SNCF, handing President Emmanuel Macron a key victory in his battle with trade unions.
The vote in the National Assembly is a blow to the labour movement, which called three months of rolling strikes over the bill, the longest industrial action in over 30 years on French railways.
Members of the lower house of parliament, where the ruling party has a large majority, adopted the bill by 452 votes for to 80 against and 27 abstentions.
The bill now goes to the Senate for a final vote on Thursday.
Analysts have compared the standoff between the centrist Macron and French railworkers with Margaret Thatcher’s showdown with British miners in the 1980s.
It is being closely watched as a sign of Macron’s ability to face down France’s unions, which have had success in pressuring previous governments to withdraw, or significantly water down, unpopular reforms.
Train drivers particularly had resisted plans to deny job and pension guarantees to new rail recruits, as well as plans to turn the SNCF into a jointstock company, which they see as a first step toward privatisation.
The government argues the lossmaking SNCF, a bastion of the union movement, needs to cut costs and improve flexibility before the EU passenger rail market opens up to competition.