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France

SNCF strike: how could the government “ensure the continuity of public services in all circumstances”? – France

  • 1 What did the government say?

  • The Executive announces that it wants to draw lessons from the SNCF controllers’ strike. “We see that an essential public service like that of the train is hit almost overnight and has a harsh, unnecessarily and unfair impact on the lives of very many of our fellow citizens,” Olivier Véran said on Wednesday. “Faced with a situation which is new, we need to have new ways of thinking”, also said the government spokesperson at the end of the last Council of Ministers of the year. Cenacle during which Emmanuel Macron would have asked his Executive to “consider the establishment of a framework to ensure the continuity of public services in all circumstances”. “We have a company that is used to tolerating strikes,” he would have lamented.

  • 2 What does the law currently say?

  • There is the right to strike, guaranteed by the Constitution. But the law also provides for a form of “continuity of public services in all circumstances”, via a 2007 law, introduced under Nicolas Sarkozy. This law “on the minimum service” intends offer “continuity of public service in regular land passenger transport”. In reality, the rule is more ambiguous: it does not require a minimum number of trains to run. It simply obliges the unions to file a notice within a specific time and to the employees to notify 48 hours in advance of their intention to participate in the strike. In this way, the SNCF can reorganize its activity to ensure a form of minimum service. But
    it is still necessary that a sufficient number of agents are not strikers. It is therefore rather a predictable service, more than a minimum.

  • 3 Which professions have the obligation to ensure the continuity of the public service?

  • Only a few professions do not have the right to strike, because of their obligation to ensure the continuity of public service: the military, the police, the gendarmes, the magistrates, the prison guards and the personnel of the transmissions of the Ministry of Interior. Others have a limited right to strike, because they must provide a minimum service: air traffic controllers, employees of the public audiovisual sector and the nuclear sector, as well as hospital staff.

  • 4 Can the requisition be a solution at the SNCF?

  • No, under the current terms of the law. This allows the prefects to requisition the personnel necessary for the operation of a public service only in the event of a serious breach of public order (security, health, public peace). This was the case for the refiners, not for the SNCF. Clément Beaune, Minister of Transport, recognizes this moreover: “Requisitioning in our country is legally framed, even constitutionally, because the right to strike is constitutional. (…) If we made a requisition which, as of tomorrow, was canceled by the judge because it did not respect the law, it would not be serious. We have rules, we have judges, we have a Constitution and principles, we are not going to throw them overboard today, I think that would not be serious”.

  • 5 How could Macron ensure the continuity of public services?

  • Olivier Véran did not give any details on this “framework to ensure the continuity of public services in all circumstances” that Emmanuel Macron intends to put in place. However, several options can be imagined.

    The first is to change the right to strike. But this option is hard to imagine: too complex to implement, it requires a modification of the Constitution and a certain unanimity to vote for it. Which is far from certain.

    The second is to change strike conditions. One of the possibilities would be to tighten the deadlines required to file a strike notice. Simple to implement: it would only take one law to modify that of 2007. But that would be to forget that the unions have already been setting up a parade for many years to circumvent these rules: at the SNCF, they file for very long periods or for “unlimited strikes”, so as to avoid repeating the legal formalities. Another idea, modeled on the German model: the imperative to have the strike movement approved by a large percentage of staff for it to be valid. But such a rule could be challenged, in the name of too great an attack on the right to strike.

    Third option under consideration: Vote to ban strikes on public holidays “, as proposed by Christelle Morançais, president (relative to LR) of the Pays-de-la-Loire region. This already exists in Italy: there, it is not possible to strike at peak times and at certain times of the year (Christmas, New Year, Easter, peak of summer holidays…).

    Finally, the last option is toinclude in collective agreements the obligation to respect a minimum service. This already exists: for transport in the Ile-de-France, the SNCF must provide at least 30% of daily connections, under penalty of financial penalties. But this rule remains limited, because the requisition of personnel is impossible to guarantee the 30%.

  • 6 How soon does Emmanuel Macron intend to act?

  • We ignore it. But if Emmanuel Macron goes to the end of his idea, it is unlikely that the government will immediately embark on such a project. Because this “framework to ensure the continuity of public services in all circumstances” has something to make the unions jump. However, it is already necessary, for the Executive, to succeed in passing the thorny pension reform, which will be presented on January 10.



    letelegramme Fr Trans

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