Rabat – Suffering from a shortage of manpower, The Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) recruited about 2,000 “inept” Moroccans as contract workers in the 70s.
Fifty years later, 800 of them spoke out against the injustices they endured and sued the SNCF for more than EUR 600 million.
In 1963 France and the newly independent Kingdom of Morocco signed an agreement allowing France to recruit about 2,000 Moroccans to work in the French railway system.
They signed their contracts at the National Office of Immigration in Casablanca, and then “four days of boat and train,” they arrived at the station of Austerlitz in Paris, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).
“It was an unforgettable journey with nine other Moroccans” says Abdelghani Azhari, a Moroccan employee for the SNCF who found himself in Achères, in the suburbs of Paris.
“The work was hard in the winter but when it’s hot it’s even worse,” Aziz had told AFP in 2015.
Young and strong and foreign, the workers were on duty whenever French employees refused to work. “We worked during Christmas and other holidays,” said Abdel, who left his village in the Atlas to work for the SNCF.
“We worked like sheep,” another worker explained. “I bowed my head because I had a family to feed.”
One worker said that he worked in the trails as a watchdog, a switcher, a miner and a greaser, exactly the same as the French employees. Employees from both nationalities were equal in all ways except that for the SNCF, “Jack” was worth more than “Ahmed.”
“We did the same job but we did not have the same benefits as our French colleagues for retirement, health insurance or paid leave,” says a worker, who was neutralized by the French Government but he was “much too old” to get the “status” as a French worker.
He told AFP that he has been denied several times from passing internal examinations. To date, he still wonders why he was heldin the same position while his French colleagues could work for better jobs within the SNCF.
Around their fifties, most of the Moroccan railway workers felt “worn out,” reports AFP.
“I could not take it anymore. From head to toe, my body had had enough,” Aziz said. He informed the SNCF and left in 2010.
He explained to AFP that the SNCF offered him a bonus of EUR 16,000, only to face a “big shock” later, finding out that the amount of his basic pension did not surpass EUR 1,000.
After many referrals and more than ten years of hearings, 848 Moroccan employees sued the SNCF in September 2015. The company appealed.
Now, with tired, worn faces and wrinkles boring deeply into their skin, about 800 of the Moroccan railway workers hope to be compensated on Wednesday for the injustices they suffered at the hands of the SNCF.
They are suing forEUR 628 million, or EUR 700,000 per applicant, as compensation for the various prejudices they endured in their training, career and even retirement.
According to the SNCF, these figures are “exorbitant.”
During the review of their file in May 2017, a former worker explained that “we are here to defend our honor” because “the SNCF took advantage of us.”
Meanwhile, the SNCF expressed its “deepest respect” to its former Moroccan workers but denied to have “treated them any differently from its French workers.”
“The workers have hope that they’ll win,” their lawyer, Clélie Lesquen-Jonas told the AFP, adding that “the atmosphere is feverish” because “they have been waiting for this moment for years.”