France: Public Transit Opening Up to Private Competition and Attacking Employees

From a French friend of Speak Out Now

A small “revolution” has taken place in public transit in France very recently (buses, metro, trains). It is opening up to competition. Until recently, the operation of transit lines was awarded to an operator by the government without competition. By this means, the company, Transdev, was awarded the market for bus transit in the region of “Ile-de-France” (the Paris region) for a long time. Wages and working conditions agreements had been the same for a long time, often the result of workers’ struggles for better conditions.

But since January 1, 2021, the public bus transit sector has opened to competition throughout the Ile de France region. The first to be impacted by this are the employees of the bus networks of Transdev, one of the three big private companies in the transit sector. Transdev proposed a contract to the region, and it was chosen. With competition, the company that wins this contract has the opportunity to reset all the agreements previously negotiated between the company and the workers! The employees realized the disaster of the new working conditions and remuneration when Transdev took over. Transdev won the contract because it was the cheapest. And now we can see why: many bonuses (meal bonuses, vacation vouchers) were eliminated. Overtime is paid at a lower rate, as are Sundays and holidays. The employees estimated the monthly loss of pay at between 250 and 500 euros (between about 290 and 580 dollars)!

In addition, the boss wants to introduce unpaid work time. Until now, when the bus drivers were not behind the wheel, but waiting for the next departure for example, these hours were considered as working hours and were paid as such. Now, the Transdev proposes to pay this time with a gradually lower hourly wage all the way to zero. This would allow them, for example, to pay 35 hours for 45-hour weeks!

But the workers fight back

The bosses were testing the workers to see what they could get away with, and they saw the result: 100% of the workers struck in many bus depots (in France workplaces have multiple unions within them and not all workers belong to a union. They choose to join the strike… or not). And the strike is spreading day by day. There is no question of accepting this huge step backwards. The employees are going from one depot to another to get information, because not all depots are affected by these new conditions at the same time. Some have already been under the new regime since the beginning of the year, after only a few months 70% of these workers are on sick leave due to the new conditions, others will be affected in the coming months. But employees, seeing the conditions that are being proposed, are not waiting to be affected directly to go on strike. This is a good thing and it is somewhat new.

Last Monday, there was a rally of about 300 people in Melun, the regional capital most affected. There were representatives from all the striking bus depots, and also workers from the subways (RATP) and train company (SNCF). The latter will also be affected by these new rules of competition. In 2025, this will occur in the Paris bus network, which until now has been under the authority of the RATP (the Paris metro or subway system), and by 2040, the Paris metro will be included. And the SNCF (French national railway company) is already being broken up for sale. Recently, the Nice-Marseille line was awarded to …. Transdev. This is the first time that many transit sectors have been sold in this way. Workers made the decision not to accept negotiations on a depot-by-depot basis, but rather, to demand global negotiations for all, so as not to be divided. This is an important first step.

These workers still have to get the bosses to back down. It should be noted that contracts are renewed every 5 years. So, we have to strike a blow right away, to make sure they don’t want to try this again. The only solution is for the movement to grow, including all bus, subway and train lines.

Because it is only a change in the balance of power in the workers’ favor that can make these new slave drivers back down.