PARIS, April 3 (Xinhua) -- French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday defended the government's plan to reform the state-run rail operator SNCF whose "status-quo is no more acceptable".
During questions to government at the national Assembly, Philippe told lawmakers that the "ambitious reform... is not intended to privatize the SNCF,... close small lines, ... but its purpose is to get out of this status quo which is no longer acceptable".
"Significant public commitments are made year after year to make the rail system work ... As we increase the money that goes to SNCF, the quality of the public service is deteriorating," he said, adding that the state devotes 14 billion euros (17.17 billion U.S. dollars) annually to help debt-ridden railway operator.
On Monday evening, the country's unions started a series of month-rolling nationwide rail strikes with a wave of two successive days out of every five days, causing major traffic chaos.
On "black Tuesday", only one in eight high-speed trains is operational and one regional train out of five is expected to run.
In Ile-de-France region, half of scheduled inter-city links would be affected by the unions' action, triggering problems for millions of train passengers.
According to SNCF, 33.9 percent of its workers stopped working earlier on Tuesday.
For Wednesday, the operator said the situation would be "very difficult", expecting the same trains frequencies as the first day of the movement.
The government targets to open domestic rail passenger services to create dynamism in the sector in addition to new rules of recruitment for "a more efficient and unified" rail operator.
Besides, it proposed to scrap preferential terms of rail workers, including retirement on full pension at 52, a decade earlier than other French employees.
"I respect the strikers because the right to strike is guaranteed by the constitution ... But if the strikers are to be respected, the millions of French people who want to go to work because they have no choice, because they want to go to work must also be respected," the French Prime Minister said.