Social unrest over spiralling living costs spreads to France's railways

Social unrest over spiralling living costs spreads to France's railways
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PARIS (July 6): Railway workers in France went on strike on Wednesday, disrupting travel across the rail network days before the summer holidays begin and at a time of unrest in other areas of the economy as high inflation eats into salaries.

With three of the four main unions at the SNCF, France's state-owned railway operator, taking part in the walkout, nearly a third of intercity and regional train services were cancelled. Commuter trains in and out of Paris were also impacted.

"I'm sure there are demands, and I respect that. But at the same time, people's time and plans should be respected too," said Reza Terakshani, an American traveller whose train had been cancelled.

The rail strike follows industrial action in the energy sector and walkouts by airport workers at the country's leading air hub, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, as disgruntled workers frustrated over high living costs vent their anger.

The tense social climate is a challenge for President Emmanuel Macron, whose centrist alliance lost its absolute majority in Parliament last month after voters punished him for not listening to their daily grievances.

French inflation climbed to a record high of 6.5% in June, driven by a sharp rise in food and energy prices.

Macron's government will this week unveil legislation aimed at bringing inflation relief.

Rail unions are demanding salaries be adjusted for inflation and a hike to the minimum wage, as well as higher bonuses to compensate for price rises.

"Railway workers are accepting a lot of sacrifices. They know, once they're hired, that they will have to work week-ends or at night. But the compensation for that is not enough," Bruno Poncet, of the Sud-Rail union, told Reuters.

Wednesday's strike is due to last one day. The unions said they were discussing their next move should their demands not be met.