Up to 200,000 passengers whose trains have been canceled because of wildcat strike action by conductors over the Christmas weekend will be reimbursed for double the price they paid for their tickets, the French national railway company, SNCF, has said.
“Not being able to travel during a period like Christmas is frankly unacceptable,” Christophe Fanichet, the boss of the company’s passenger transport division, said on Wednesday. “I would like to offer the company’s apologies.”
Fanichet told France Info radio that only two out of three high-speed TGVs were likely to run on December 24 and 25, while four out of five French people would be on the move. “It makes me angry,” he said. “Everyone in France needs a breather.”
He said the decision would cost the SNCF “several tens of millions of euros”, adding that frustrated passengers would also be free to exchange their tickets for an earlier or later train at no extra charge – although many services were already fully booked.
Rail unions have not formally called their members out but had issued notice of a possible strike. The protest has mainly been organized by conductors themselves on social media, bypassing the unions and infuriating the SNCF and government.
“You just don’t strike at Christmas,” said Olivier Véran, the government’s official spokesperson. “I am obviously not questioning either the right to strike, or the right of employees to protest, but really, was it necessary at Christmas? The answer is no.”
SNCF said train managers’ pay had risen 12% in two years and they had recently been offered a further €1,200 (£1,050) a year in salary and benefits. Unions deem the offer serious enough not to formally call a strike, but several hundred conductors have rejected it, saying they want greater recognition for the specific demands of their job.
The company said passengers who were unable to travel because of the strike would have the full cost of their tickets reimbursed in cash or by transfer and would also receive a voucher for the same amount, valid for one year for any future journey.
Strikes by rail workers are also expected to cause severe disruption to trains in the UK over Christmas and into the first week of the New Year. Most British train operators will give refunds of up to 100% for passengers unable to travel, but restrictions can apply.