Under the boos of a hundred demonstrators, the SNCF launched Friday the restructuring of the company Fret SNCF, threatened by a procedure of Brussels, which should lead to the creation of a new less important company. Fret SNCF risks having to repay a debt of 5.3 billion euros considered by the European Commission as illegal state aid, which would put this company immediately into bankruptcy.
The solution chosen to avoid such an outcome provides for the company to disappear to be replaced by a new entity, by selling 20% of its activity to competitors. "What is happening to us is not of our making, it is not a company decision," said the director general of Fret SNCF, Jérôme Leborgne, in front of the demonstrators gathered in front of the headquarters of the company where the management presented its "plan of discontinuity" before the social and economic committee (CSE).
It is a decision that is imposed on us, which comes from far back in time and which was decided between Brussels and the State, "continued Mr. Leborgne, under the cries of "resignation! Resignation!" "I understand the concern and anger of the railway workers. This case is really a shock especially since, for two years in 2021 and 2022, we were positive in operating margin for the first time thanks to the commitment of railway workers, "he said.
But "between a procedure creating long months of uncertainty for the company and its employees, a procedure that can lead to reimburse a deadly sum, and a quick and protective agreement, the responsibility is to choose the second way," wrote the Minister Delegate for Transport Clément Beaune, in a forum in Le Monde, Friday.
The plan presented to Brussels by the French State provides for the creation on 1 January 2025 of a new company, currently called New Fret. It must take over "capacity management", i.e. the trains that make up Fret SNCF with the wagons of its various customers, which would not form profitable convoys if they were taken in isolation. These activities represent 80% of turnover and 70% of SNCF freight traffic.
Another company, New Maintenance, has to take care of maintenance as the name suggests. This activity was not included in Fret SNCF before the rail reform launched in 2020.
A minority shareholder, which Paris hopes will be public, is to enter the capital of these two new entities, which will be attached to the rail freight division of the SNCF group, Rail Logistics Europe, with the other subsidiaries Captrain, Naviland Cargo, VIIA and Forwardis. There will be "no dismissal, neither staff with the status (of railway, editor's note), nor contractors," promises the management. Nearly 3,900 people are to be automatically transferred to New Freight and 500 to New Maintenance.
As for the 450 agents working on the "dedicated trains", regular freight trains that must be entrusted to competitors, they will be reassigned to the SNCF group or loaned to new operators if they are volunteers. "It is out of the question to drive for a private company," assured Friday Mikaël Meusnier, agent of Fret SNCF for 26 years and unionized at the CGT.
We have always fought for this enterprise. It's a family. It is out of the question to part with a few family members," he said. The demonstration, called by the CGT-Cheminots, Unsa ferroviaire, SUD-Rail and CFDT-Cheminots unions, did not prevent the CSE meeting from taking place.
We nationalize the losses and we privatize the profits, "denounced Fabien Villedieu for SUD-Rail. "The government should have courage and tell the European Commission that if we want trucks to stop running and be transferred to rail, we must help railway companies," he said. "For there to be no more trucks, there must be train and for there to be train, we must not start by weakening the main operator.»
The management hopes to recover "within three to four years" the 750 million euros of turnover that Fret SNCF currently achieves. "In 2030, we will be bigger than today because the market is buoyant," predicts one executive.