French Senate gives final approval to Macron's landmark rail reform

Senators passed the rail reform a day after lawmakers in the National Assembly approved the bill

The French Senate has approved a landmark overhaul of state rail operator SNCF, cementing one of the key reforms launched by President Emmanuel Macron in his bid to improve public finances.

Senators passed the rail reform by a vote of 245 to 82, just a day after lawmakers in the National Assembly approved the final bill.

Macron pushed ahead with his overhaul despite fierce resistance from labour unions, which have carried out their longest strike action in three decades on the railways to try to force the government to back down.

But union leaders have refused to concede victory, saying the rolling strikes will continue to at least June 28 as planned.

"The law has been passed definitively, and it will be applied," Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said, adding that more talks will now be held on issues including a new labour agreement for rail workers.

"The strike no longer serves any purpose," added Gerard Cornu, the senator in Macron's Republic on the Move party who served as rapporteur for rail law.

Unions failed to get public opinion on their side during their efforts to derail the overhaul, which would deny job-for-life and early pension guarantees to new hires.

The government argues that the loss-making SNCF -- a bastion of the union movement -- needs to cut costs and improve flexibility before the EU passenger rail market is opened up to competition.

Macron made cutting France's deficit and streamlining public services a key platform of his election campaign last year.

His success in holding firm against the SNCF unions could clear the path for other reform pledges he has announced, including overhauls of the pension system and the vast public sector.