Months of rolling strikes by French rail workers failed to block a reform plan pushed by President Emmanuel Macron AFP/Christophe SIMON

PARIS - AFP
French rail strike cost operator SNCF US$920 million: Report

An unsuccessful strike by rail workers this year against President Emmanuel Macron's reform plan for the heavily indebted state operator SNCF cost the company 790 million euros (US$920 million), according to an internal document seen by AFP.

Lawmakers gave final approval to the overhaul plan in June after months of rolling strikes - every two days out of five - which began in April.

In total drivers and other workers walked off the job on 37 days, the longest SNCF strike in three decades, causing cancellations and delays for the 4.5 million daily passengers on the network.

The loss corresponds to roughly 21 million euros per strike day, and more than wipes out the company's net profit of 679 million euros posted for 2017.

It takes into account lost ticket sales as well as reimbursements and other expenses.

However, the strike also reduced the SNCF's operating costs by 140 million euros, since it did not pay striking workers, and fewer trains meant lower electricity costs.

The SNCF confirmed the figures to AFP, citing in particular an "unprecedented" 160 million euros in "commercial gestures" to compensate clients whose travel plans were disrupted.

Workers were protesting the plan to deny job-for-life and early pension guarantees to all new hires, which the government says is necessary to cut costs as European passenger rail markets are opened up to competition.

But they failed to win over public opinion, with a majority of French consistently against the action according to surveys.

Participation by rail workers also dwindled as the strike went on, with roughly 13 percent of staff taking part in the end compared with 77 per cent in April.

Macron made overhauling the SNCF - which has a legacy debt load of some 45 billion euros - a key element of his campaign pledge to cut France's deficit and streamline public services.

The government has said that it will take on the majority of the operator's debt, while also investing 3.6 billion euros in network infrastructure over the next 10 years.

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