France’s National Rail service (SNCF) was convicted on appeal last Wednesday of discrimination against over 800 employees, mainly from Morocco.
Baptised Chibanis (‘white hair’ in Moroccan Arabic) by the media due to their advanced age, the men were recruited as railway workers by the SNCF in the 1970s. After 12 years of court procedures, the 848 plaintiffs will receive reparations for the discrimination faced throughout their careers to the tune of €230.000 each, according to their lawyer.
As ‘contractors’, they executed tiring and dangerous work for lower pay than their French counterparts. They were not afforded benefits such as healthcare or free railway circulation, nor did they receive training or opportunities for career advancement.
These discriminatory effects were keenly felt when they reached retirement age in the early 2000s, when it became apparent that their pensions were drastically smaller by comparison.
Moroccan employees would have to work “ten years more than the other railway workers to have the right to half the pension their colleagues received,” plaintiff Brahim Ydir told AFP.
The decision on Wednesday was met with hugs, smiles and tears. 77-year-old Ahmed Katim, President of the Association of Morrocan railway workers—and ex-SNCF employee—told Leïla Khouiel from Le Bondy Blog:
I fought for the dignity of all the ex-SNCF employees, Moroccan, Algerian, Senegalese… I’m proud of them! They trusted me. We didn’t do this for the money, we’re all old. What are we supposed to do with this money? We won our dignity back, that’s what we fought for together, that’s what I put my life, my children, my work aside for…
Lawyer Clélie de Lesquen-Jonas added that on top of upholding the 2015 decision, the courts recognised a ‘moral wrong’ had been done to the Chibanis, for which the SNCF will have to pay additional retributory damages, reported French newspaper Le Monde.
The Parisian court’s decision to reject the appeal marks a precedent in collective justice for post-colonial populations. There were too many plaintiffs to fit in the courtroom–in these cases, Western European legal systems are literally overwhelmed with the quantity of people wronged. Whilst focus must also be on preventing these appalling infractions from happening in the first place, this case provides a glimmer of hope that others might receive an appropriate reaction to the suffering caused by colonial crimes over many centuries.
The SNCF said it would look at each of the more than 800 cases individually, and reserved the right to a possible appeal to a higher court, according to AFP.