PARIS • French state railway operator SNCF has warned of major disruption caused by strikes this week, which analysts say will be a major test of how much weight the country's once fearsome trade unions still carry.
Train drivers and other staff were set to walk off the job from last night, at the start of three months of planned stoppages against reform plans announced by President Emmanuel Macron and his government. From today, rubbish collectors, some staff in the electricity and energy sector and employees of Air France are also set to strike in the biggest wave of industrial unrest since Mr Macron's election last May.
Air France said it expected to operate around 75 per cent of its flights today. The flag carrier's unions have also called for action on April 7 and are planning further walkouts on April 10 and 11, over demands for a 6 per cent wage increase.
On Sunday, the SNCF said travel would be "very disrupted" today, with one in eight high-speed TGV trains and about one in five regional trains operating, and major cancellations on suburban commuter trains.
SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy warned that some train lines might be closed due to walkouts and problems might accumulate over time as stoppages are planned for two out of every five days until June 28.
"Three days after normal services resume, another strike sequence will start. It'll completely disorganise our work," he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, warning the network's 4.5 million daily users to brace themselves for problems.
Unions are reacting to government plans to revamp the debt-laden and loss-making SNCF. They believe - despite consistent denials from the government - that the proposed changes are a first step towards privatisation.
Under the plans, new rail employees will not benefit from a special status historically given to railway workers, which guarantees them a job for life and early retirement. Forty-eight per cent of staff are set to join the strike today.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS