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France hit by second nationwide strike against pension reform


FILE PHOTO-Police officers clash with protesters as they demonstrate against the French government’s pension reform plan in Paris, France, January 19, 2023. Adrien AdcaZz via REUTERS.

A second nationwide strike disrupted French electricity production, public transport and schools on Tuesday, in a backlash against the government’s plans to make people work longer before retirement.

Unions, which have scheduled protest rallies across France throughout the day, want to keep the pressure on the government and hope to repeat the large turnout for the first national day of protest on Jan. 19.

That day, more than a million people marched in opposition to pushing the retirement age to 64 from 62 and accelerating a planned delay in the age eligible for a full pension.

“This reform is unfair and brutal,” said Luc Farre, the secretary general of the civil servants’ UNSA union. “Moving (the pension age) to 64 is going backwards, socially.”

Only about one in three high-speed TGV trains ran on Tuesday and even fewer local and regional trains, while the Paris metro was seriously disrupted.

Half of primary school teachers will walk off the job, their union said, while oil refinery staff and workers across other sectors, including public broadcasters, which played music instead of news programmes, also went strike.

French power supply was down by 4.4%, or 2.9 gigawatts, as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants joined the strike, data from utility group EDF (EDF.PA) showed.

TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) said there was no delivery of petroleum products from its French sites because of the strike, adding that petrol stations were fully supplied and that customers’ needs were met.

Opinion polls show most French people oppose the reform, but President Emmanuel Macron and his government intend to stand their ground. The reform is “vital” to ensure the pension system keeps working, Macron said on Monday.

Pushing back the retirement age by two years and extending the pay-in period would yield an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027, according to Labour Ministry estimates.

Unions say there are other ways to do this, such as taxing the super rich or asking employers or well-off pensioners to contribute more.

The government made some concessions in the draft bill, such as setting the new pensionable age at 64 instead of Macron’s campaign pledge of 65, and agreeing to a minimum pension of 1,200 euros a month for all.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne says the 64 threshold is “non-negotiable”, but the government is exploring ways to offset some of the impact, in particular on women.

Borne said the government was looking at the impact of the reform on the additional pension rights for mothers.

As protesters rally across France, lawmakers will be debating the draft bill at committee level. The unions said they were trying to persuade lawmakers not to back the bill.

“When there is such a massive opposition (to a reform), it would be dangerous for the government not to listen,” Mylene Jacquot, the secretary general of the CFDT union’s civil servants branch, told Reuters.

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