France on strike: Protests against pension reform grind country to a halt

Unions and people demonstrate in Bayonne, southwestern France, Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Unions and people demonstrate in Bayonne, southwestern France, Tuesday, March 7, 2023 Copyright AP Photo/Bob Edme
By Euronews with AP
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France on strike: Protests over pension reform grind nation to a halt

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Garbage collectors, utility workers and transport workers are among people walking off the job Tuesday across France to show their anger at a bill which would raise the retirement from 62 to 64.

Over 250 protests are taking place in Paris and around the country in what union organisers hope is their biggest show of opposition yet against president Emmanuel Macron’s legislative proposal. Protests of a similar nature have taken place over the past two months. The bill is under debate in the French senate this week.

SNCF, France’s national rail authority, started an open-ended strike on Tuesday, meaning trains across the country may continue tomorrow and beyond until it is called off.

“A lot of garbage workers die before the retirement age”

Some unions have called for similar open-ended strikes, such as oil depots, and electricity and gas facilities.

According to CGT, one of France’s main trade unions, oil shipments in the country have been halted on Tuesday amid strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies, Esso-ExxonMobil and Petroineos groups.

AP Photo/Lewis Joly
Demonstrators march during a demonstration, Tuesday, March 7, 2023 in Paris.AP Photo/Lewis Joly

Truckers have sporadically blocked major highway arteries and interchanges in go-slow actions near several cities in French regions.

In Paris, rubbish collectors have started an open-ended strike and blocked on Tuesday morning the access to the incineration plant of Ivry-sur-Seine, south of the capital, Europe’s biggest such facility.

“The job of a binman is painful. We usually work very early or late ... 365 days per year. We usually have to carry heavy weight or stand up for hours to sweep,” Regis Viecili, a 56-year-old garbage worker told the Associated Press.

Some strikers said that such an intense rhythm has a negative impact on their daily life and that the job was so demanding that they often experienced tendinitis and aches. That’s why they have a special pension plan. But with the planned changes, they would have to retire at 59 instead of 57.

“A lot of garbage workers die before the retirement age,” Viceli said.

“A garbage worker has seven years less life expectancy than a regular employee,” said Natacha Pommet, a CGT union activist.

A fifth of flights were cancelled at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and about a third of flights were scrapped at Orly Airport. Trains to Germany and Spain were expected to come to a halt, and those to and from Britain and Belgium will be reduced by a third, according to the SNCF rail authority.

The reform would raise the official pension age from 62 to 64 and require 43 years of work by 2030 to earn a full pension, amid other measures. The government argues the system is expected to dive into deficit within a decade as France’s population ages and life expectancy lengthens.

Opinion polls suggest that most French voters oppose the bill.

Left-wing lawmakers say companies and the wealthy should pitch in more to finance the pension system.

France’s eight main unions and five youth organisations will meet on Tuesday evening to decide about the next steps of the mobilisation.

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