France strike: Trains for children back on after outcry

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Media caption,

Children begin Christmas travel amid French strike

France's national railway company has backtracked on plans to cancel a popular service that allows children to travel alone over Christmas.

SNCF said it was cancelling the service, in which children aged between 4 and 14 are accompanied by a monitor, because of strike action.

The move sparked outcry, with some 5,000 children expected to be affected.

But following a "Christmas truce" from some striking drivers, SNCF said it was laying on special trains on Sunday.

The announcement came amid warnings of travel chaos over the Christmas holidays in France, where workers have been striking over planned pension reforms.

Many French citizens heading off to spend the holidays with family and friends have found themselves stranded because of cancelled trains and gridlocked roads, while hundreds of flights have also been cancelled.

President Emmanuel Macron called on striking transport workers to "observe a truce out of respect for families and family life".

What happened to the children's trains?

The SNCF Junior & Co service allows the children of parents and families living in different parts of the country to travel alone during school holidays.

SNCF announced earlier this week that it was cancelling the service, which was expected to run from 20 to 24 December, because of the ongoing pension strike. It cited security concerns, saying it feared it could not provide adequate supervision to the children.

But critics accused the company of political spin and of trying to sell the seats for more money.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Children in Paris were among those to use the service on Sunday

The move outraged parents who were relying on the service to see their children over Christmas.

"I will not see my daughter at Christmas when it has been four months since I saw her. She is very disappointed," one mother told the newspaper Le Parisien.

"The plane is too expensive, the bus is not possible, she is too young to travel alone... No other alternative solution is offered by SNCF".

In a statement on Friday, the company said a "Christmas truce" from some rail staff had allowed it to make a "new offer at the last minute" of 5,000 seats on 14 trains on Sunday.

A return service is planned for 29 December.

Parents and children on Sunday said they were relieved at the decision.

Eleven-year-old Lucas told Reuters news agency he would have missed seeing his father if the train had been cancelled.

"I would have been very disappointed because I don't see him often... I really want to see him," he said.

What is the strike about?

Workers are striking over Mr Macron's plans to replace France's 42 separate pension regimes with a universal points-based system.

Media caption,

Protesters march in Paris against pension reform

Mr Macron's system would reward employees for each day worked, awarding points that would later be transferred into future pension benefits.

But workers say the reforms would see them retiring later or facing reduced payouts.

What has Macron said?

Mr Macron has called on striking workers to embrace a "spirit of responsibility".

"Strike action is justifiable and protected by the constitution, but I believe there are moments in the life of a nation when it is also good to call a truce to respect families and the lives of families," he said during a trip to Ivory Coast.

His office on Sunday said he would waive his right to a special presidential pension payout when he leaves office.

France's presidents are legally entitled to draw a pension of about 6,000 euros ($6,650;£5,100) each month before tax after they leave office.

"The President of the Republic will converge... with the universal points system planned for all French people," his office said.

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