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France’s strike actions set to continue

Strikes that crippled France’s railways and public transport system in December are set to continue – and a union of French airline crews is now joining the action.

25 December 2019
By Connexion journalist

Tens of thousands of travellers had difficult journeys or had to cancel trips after pre-holiday meetings between the government and unions over pension reform ended in deadlock.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said there had been advances concerning hard physical jobs, night workers and those who started work early, which would allow flexibility for earlier retirement.

The FO union, representing flight crew, called for action from January 3, after separate talks broke down and is asking pilots to join them. This affects only internal flights.

Mass street demonstrations in December were reminiscent of the 1995 pension reform strikes, when three weeks of protests forced the government to back down, though these protests were considerably less attended.

Even so, two-thirds of French people support them, according to a poll in Le Figaro just before Christmas.

The government says it is determined to end France’s 42 pension schemes – the so-called special regimes which have enhanced pension rights, that govern public workers and some others such as lawyers – and replace them with a single, points-based system.

It says it is fairer and more transparent.

It has pledged to maintain existing rights for police and firefighters.

It has also proposed a minimum pension of €1,000 a month for all workers from 2022, including the self-employed.

But unions say action will continue for as long as it takes to get the plans withdrawn.

Critics of the plans say they would force millions of people to work beyond France’s official retirement age of 62 by setting a so-called “pivot age” of 64 for a full pension and benefits.

 

Tens of thousands of travellers have been affected by the strike. Three Connexion readers tell us of their experiences.

Part-time teacher Kristina Siarey, 57, who lives in Buckinghamshire, said she was forced to drive to France to bring her 85-year-old mother (pictured left with her mum), from Decize, Nièvre, to spend the holidays with her due to Eurostar cancellations. “My mother was very upset when she realised she couldn’t catch her train.  “My husband and I bought ferry tickets to collect her, it’s a seven or eight hour journey but we had to do it,” she said.

 

Retiree Rosemary Richardson, 77 (pictured right) had to pay €600 extra to get home to Angoulême after a trip to the UK. “My SNCF and Eurostar trains were cancelled.  “My son bought me another ticket for €430 from St Pancras to Gare du Nord and then from Montparnasse to Angoulême, but Eurostar was late so I missed my connection. I had to buy a new ticket but the only train I could take was going to Poitiers, which is an hour’s drive from home. “My husband, who is 84, had to drive in the dark to get me. I’m waiting to be reimbursed.” 

 

Fellow retiree Lesley Gray, 64, who lives in Courçay, Indre-et-Loire, said the strike had a sad effect on her family: “One of my sons lives in Germany and the other in Sweden, and they couldn’t attend their grandmother’s funeral, as they couldn’t guarantee to be able to be here or to return to work. “My mother-in-law lived with us and they were close. It’s such a shame.”

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