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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: SNCF: Les « indigènes du rail » obtiennent justice

by Mehdi Fikri

SNCF: Justice is done for the “natives of the railway”

Translated Wednesday 28 October 2015, by Nicholas Nicou

More than 800 Moroccan workers have today been awarded compensation for the discrimination they suffered while working for the French rail operator SNCF. SNCF was found guilty and will now have to pay damages ranging between “€150,000 and €230,000”.

Lawyer Clélie de Lesquen has welcomed this “excellent verdict”. SNCF has been found guilty of “discrimination in the execution of work contracts” and “in retirement rights”. The damages range from “€150,000 to €230,000”, according to Abdelkader Bendali, a Moroccan teacher who is supporting the plaintiffs.
Over 800 railway workers of Moroccan origin are demanding compensation from SNCF, claiming they are victims of forty years of aggressive institutional racism. These workers, known as chibanis (grey hair in Arabic), were put at a disadvantage during their careers and penalised when they retired, and have been fighting in the courts for ten years. It is an unprecedented case, and one in which these men are confronted by unscrupulous opponents. Recently, the Paris Prud’hommes [1] judge Karima Gassem was expelled from proceedings due to her “Moroccan ancestry”. A new judge was named and the different parties will be informed of the decision today. Each of the plaintiffs is demanding an average of €400,000 in damages.

Untold discrimination

These “natives of the railway” were hired at the start of the seventies, most of them directly from Morocco. At that time, SNCF was seeking to fill gruelling and dangerous positions deemed undesirable by French workers. Once these employees arrived, the state-owned operator specially created the status of private contractors for them, preventing them from being considered “railway workers”. The list detailing the discriminations to which they were victim is endless. These men, who are either retired or are close to retirement age, have been relegated to the bottom of the pay scale for all of their lives. They have also been unable to take internal examinations, while those among them who held the role of supervisor were never given the appropriate title, because they were foreigners. Moreover, their social benefits have been vastly inferior to that of their French counterparts: on average, they have had to work seven more years for a retirement package that is three times smaller. They have also been denied access to SNCF’s free medical services. As a final, humiliating blow, those who acquired French citizenship over the course of their career – and were thus able to acquire the status of “railway worker” – were forced to relinquish their seniority bonus.
SNCF’s defence is the embodiment of cynicism. The company’s position is that “there were no laws against discrimination at the time, as the first anti-discriminatory legislation dates back to 2001”. Equal treatment is, however, enshrined in the Convention of the International Labour Organization, which is ratified by France and was incorporated into the French Constitution in 1958.

For Radouane Kebdi, SNCF worker and member of the association Droit à la différence, these chibanis are victims of a form of “neo-colonial discrimination”. In his opinion, “beyond the stories of historical contractual differences with which SNCF is attempting to defend itself, we simply have men who are demanding equal treatment for equal work”. While François Hollande was in Morocco yesterday for the inauguration of the TGV Casablanca-Tanger line, the president of Droit à la différence has demanded that the government intervenes to respect the dignity of these men, who have sacrificed their youth and their health for the French railways.

[1A French court that hears workers’ complaints


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