Macron pension reform: France enters second day of strikes

December 6, 2019 by No Comments


Empty tracks are seen on the departure train platform Gare du Nord railway stationImage copyright
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The usually busy Gare du Nord railway station in Paris seen empty on Thursday

A strike over planned pension reforms that paralysed France on Thursday has entered its second day.

Several unions, including rail and metro workers, voted to extend the strike action, meaning another day of major disruptions to key services.

It comes after more than 800,000 people protested on Thursday, with violent clashes reported in a number of cities.

Workers are angry about planned pension reforms that would see them retiring later or facing reduced payouts.

France currently has 42 different pension schemes across its private and public sectors, with variations in retirement age and benefits. President Emmanuel Macron says his plans for a universal points-based system would be fairer, but many disagree.

Rail workers voted to extend their strike through Friday, while unions at the Parisian bus and metro operator said their walkout would continue until at least Monday.

Numerous rush-hour trains into Paris were cancelled on Friday and 10 out of 16 metro lines were closed, while others ran limited services, Reuters news agency reports.

Traffic jams of more than 350km (217 miles) were reported on major roads in and around the capital.

A number of flights have also been disrupted, while many schools are expected to remain shuttered and hospitals understaffed.

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Protesters sang songs against President Macron in Paris

Mr Macron’s government has reportedly made plans to deal with the strike action at the weekend.

Some trade union leaders have vowed to strike until Mr Macron abandons his campaign promise to overhaul the retirement system.

“We’re going to protest for a week at least, and at the end of that week it’s the government that’s going to back down,” 50-year-old Paris transport employee Patrick Dos Santos told Reuters.

What happened on Thursday?

French police gave the figure of 800,000 people taking to the streets across the country, including 65,000 in Paris.

Union leaders put the numbers higher, with the CGT union saying 1.5m people turned out across France.

The disruption meant popular tourist sites in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, were closed for the day and usually busy transport hubs like the Gare du Nord were unusually quiet.

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Media captionSome of the Thursday’s protests turned violent

In the capital there were reports of vandalism in places and police used tear gas to disperse protesters. In total, 71 arrests were made across the city, police said.

Clashes were also reported in a number of other cities including Nantes, Bordeaux and Rennes.

What is the impact on transport?

Rail operator SNCF says 90% of regional trains were cancelled by the disruption on Thursday.

Hundreds of flights were also cancelled, with airlines warning of further disruption to come.

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Eurostar has said it will operate a reduced timetable until 10 December, with 29 services planned for Friday already cancelled.

Who is striking and why?

Teachers, transport workers, police, lawyers, hospital and airport staff were among those who took part in Thursday’s general walkout.

Many other workers reportedly pre-empted the disruption by taking Thursday and Friday off, but it is unclear how long the “unlimited strike” action could last.

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Large crowds were seen across the capital

The Macron administration will hope to avoid a repeat of the country’s general strike over pension reforms in 1995, which crippled the transport system for three weeks and drew massive popular support, forcing a government climbdown.

Mr Macron’s unified system would reward employees for each day worked, awarding points that would later be transferred into future pension benefits.

The official retirement age has been raised in the last decade from 60 to 62, but remains one of the lowest among the OECD group of rich nations – in the UK, for example, the retirement age for state pensions is 66 and is due to rise to at least 67.

The move would remove the most advantageous pensions for a number of jobs and unions fear the new system will mean some will have to work longer for a lower pension.