France: Macron Takes on ‘Privileged’ Labor at SNCF


French President Emmanuel Macron, who is pushing through this month with labor reforms, has not waited for the street to react before attacking another elephant in the closet: the national train company, the SNCF.

In the cross-hairs are France’s “special regimes”— certain public sectors where employees have benefits which go far beyond what normal public and private employees enjoy—starting with the SNCF and its generous retirement program which is held responsible in great part for the monopoly’s 44 billion euro debt.

On board train workers can retire with full benefits, based on the last six months salary, at age 52, while other SNCF employees retire at 57. Legal retirement in France is 62 after contributing to the retirement fund for 42 years, and the sum is based on one’s best 25 years salary.

The SNCF has 152,700 active employees while they are paying 270,000 pensioners. The retirees and active employees benefit for life from a number of advantages including free and extremely low cost tickets for themselves and their family, subsidized housing and free medical clinics. The tab for all of this ‘privilege’ is picked up by the tax-payer.

President Macron is also pushing through with a Europe-wide directive to open train services to private operators by December 2019 thus ending the SNCF’s monopoly.

The Unions are warning they will fight. “Our status has nothing to do with the present difficulties of the railroad,” said Bruno Poncet of SUD-Rail union. The CFDT union, known as more moderate, is also ready for battle: “We will not allow the pure and simple suppression of the special regime which will lead to a lowering of pensions,” said Rémi Aufrere, General secretary of CFDT-Cheminots.