Macron pension reform: France enters second day of strikes

Empty tracks are seen at the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris as a strike by French SNCF railway workers and French transportation workers continues on 6 December, 2019.Image copyright

Image caption

Train services have been badly affected by the strike

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 at least 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.

The main trade unions were expected to meet later on Friday to decide the next course of action.

  • Why are French workers on a nationwide strike?
  • In pictures: The pension protests rocking France
  • How could French strikes affect UK travellers?

Mr Macron’s government has reportedly made plans to deal with the strike action over the weekend. But some unions have vowed to continue the strike until he 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 news agency.

What is the latest?

Rail operator SNCF says about 90% of its high-speed TGV trains were cancelled on Friday, while airlines including Air France, EasyJet and Ryanair dropped flights.

At least nine of the 16 metro lines in Paris were closed, while others ran limited services.

Traffic jams of more than 350km (217 miles) were also reported on major roads in and around the capital. Some commuters took to bikes and electric scooters in an effort to avoid the transport chaos.

Image copyright

Image caption

There were major traffic jams around Paris on Friday amid the public transport chaos

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

Many schools were expected to remain shuttered and hospitals understaffed.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said fewer teachers were expected to strike on Friday than the previous day, as he argued that the current pension system was in need of deep reform.

“It would be much easier for us to do nothing, like others before us,” he told local channel BFMTV. “We could see through this five-year term without enacting deep reform. But if every presidency reasons in this way, our children will not have an acceptable pension system.”

Minister for Solidarity and Health Agnès Buzyn told radio network Europe 1 the government had heard the protesters’ anger and would meet union leaders to discuss the reforms on Monday.

She noted that the government had not yet laid out the details of its plan, and said there was “a discussion going on about who will be affected, what age it kicks in, which generations will be concerned – all that is still on the table”.

Mr Macron has not commented publicly on the strike, but an official speaking anonymously to AFP news agency said the president was “calm” and determined to carry out the reform in a mood of “listening and consultation”.

What happened on Thursday?

French police said 800,000 people took to the streets across the country on Thursday, including 65,000 in Paris.

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

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Protesters sang songs against President Macron in Paris on Thursday

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

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

Media captionSome of Thursday’s protests turned violent

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

Rail operator SNCF said 90% of regional trains had been cancelled by the disruption on Thursday. Hundreds of flights were also cancelled, with airlines warning of further disruption to come.

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.

Image copyright

Image caption

Large crowds gathered across the capital on Thursday to protest against the planned reforms

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.