Strikes continue against pension reforms in France

Demonstrations planned for Thursday, December 12 - but unions are targeting Tuesday, December 17 as another national day of mass protests

The pension reform strikes that have crippled public transport in France are set to continue, with walkouts planned for Thursday, December 12, and Tuesday, December 17.

While some demonstrations are planned for December 12, unions are focusing on December 17 as the next major day of national protest, when teaching unions and other public sector workers expected to join rail workers in a string of demonstrations across the country.

Travel disruption remained widespread on Thursday, however. SNCF has cancelled 80% of its scheduled railway services, on the eighth day of unlimited transport strikes. About a quarter of TGV services are running, as are one in four Intercité and Transilien services. Only 4 in 10 regional TER trains were due to run on Thursday, with many of those resorting to replacement bus services.

RATP worker unions in Paris have said that their strike will continue into Friday at least. Some 10 metro lines remain largely closed, and others operating only at peak times.

Refinery blockades that have left hundreds of filling stations closed or with limited petrol and diesel supplies are continuing.

Thursday's protests come after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe outlined the government's planned pension reforms in a major speech, in which he said that the legal retirement age would remain 62, but that workers would be encouraged to work until 64.

Mr Philippe had earlier warned that he had “no magic announcements” to make that would stop the pension strikes, and the announcement prompted an immediate backlash from unions. The CGT, said it would be “stepping up strikes” after Mr Philippe's speech.

“The government is taking everybody for fools,” the CGT's Philippe Martinez, said. “Everyone will work longer – it’s unacceptable.”

France’s moderate CFDT union also called for its members to join the December 17 strike, saying the government had crossed a “red line” with its proposal to 'encourage' workers to delay retirement.

“The government intends to adopt the proposal of the high commissioner Jean-Paul Delevoye to introduce, above the legal age, an ‘age of equilibrium’ with a system of discounts and bonuses,” Mr Philippe said in his speech.

Changes to the pension age will not apply to anyone born before 1975. “We have decided to change nothing for those who have already contributed toward their retirement for at least 17 years, which means for those under the general retirement regime – those born before 1975 and who will be over 50 in 2025,” Mr Philippe said.

But, he said “the time has come to build a universal retirement [points-based] system” for pensions to replace the current 42 regimes for a range of workers.

The overhaul will apply fully to those entering the labour force in 2022, Mr Philippe said, in a concession to workers in sectors that currently enjoy benefits such as early retirement or more generous pensions - though the universal system will eventually cancel special regimes, he insisted.

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