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Unions: Strike may continue in France over Christmas

Strikes are continuing in France today (Friday December 13) with some unions threatening to carry on through Christmas, after Prime Minister Édouard Philippe spoke to a mixed response this week.

The Prime Minister spoke on pension reform on Wednesday (December 11), clarifying some details on the government’s plan to consolidate the current 42-plan system into one single, universal plan.

The PM’s plan

Mr Philippe confirmed that the new system would go ahead, with people born in 2004 - and turning 18 in 2022 - becoming the first workers to enter directly into the new points-based plan. He also confirmed that the plans would only apply to workers born after 1975.

The PM said that the minimum age of retirement would remain at 62, but there would be financial incentives for those who continue to work longer, gradually increasing with each extra year worked, with the full amount per month available from age 64. The police will continue to be allowed to leave from age 52.

The minimum pension amount for those drawing their full pension was confirmed at 1,000 from 2022 onwards, compared to the 980 amount currently offered.

The new system will use points, collected per year worked, to calculate final pension amounts, with the point values fixed according to “a golden rule”, based on a system of “average salaries”, Mr Philippe said.

Anyone living in poverty will benefit from “extra points”, the PM said, without adding further specific details yet. This will mean affected people will benefit from three extra years of part-time work, paid full-time. This will apply particularly to nurses and carers, and similar professions that take on night shifts, with up to 20-30% of nurses expected to qualify for this extra, the PM said.

Mr Philippe has said that he remains “firm, but not closed ("ferme, mais pas fermé")” to further debate and discussion, even as he continues to push through most of the controversial reforms.

Strikes continuing, possibly over Christmas

Yet, some unions have said that they are not satisfied with Mr Philippe’s response, with train workers from the CGT-Cheminots saying that there will be “no truce [break] over Christmas” as long as the stalemate remains.

Laurent Brun, from the CGT-Cheminots, said: "No break for Christmas, except if the government discovers its reason before then."

Yves Veyrier, from Force Ouvrière, said today that there will be no "stoppage" for Christmas, and Sud-Rail federal secretary Fabien Dumas said that it was even planning "a larger strike movement" to force pension reform.

Mr Veyrier said: "The right to strike is fundamental."

However, some unions said they would support a break over Christmas, including Unsa, and CFDT; the latter of which saying they want to "talk" as much as possible, and "leave people free to move around as they wish" while also "seeking all possible ways to make ourselves heard".

Former transport minister (and current ecology minister) Elisabeth Borne said: “Announcing that you want to ruin the holiday season for the French public is irresponsible. Public service should firstly help users, and especially those who want to go on holiday for Christmas.

“More than three quarters of SNCF and RATP workers will not be affected by the reforms. I urge them to understand the difficulties of the public.”

Yet, Laurent Berger, secretary general of union CFDT, called the plans “useless and unfair”, while Philippe Pivet, retirement secretary at the Force Ouvrière (FO) union said: “They’re hypocritical because yes, we are keeping the legal retirement age at 62, but while still saying that it’s better not to leave at this age because you’ll lose points.

“Dress it up however you like, but it still comes down to a rise in [retirement] age of two years.”

Other unions including UNSA, have said that they are unhappy with the extent of the provision for people living in poverty, and said that Mr Philippe’s announcement had not been clear enough.

And even though the government has clarified that the plans will only apply to those born after 1975 and not the initially-planned 1963, and after 1985 for public sector workers - in a move that has been called “the grandfather clause”- some unions say this does not go far enough.

Didier Mathis, general secretary at the UNSA railway union, said: “This still applies to 40% of our staff, especially SNCF and RATP drivers, meaning 52,000 people who are losing calculations on their pensions over the past six months.”

Some unions are arguing that the “grandfather clause” should mean that the new system would only apply to individuals entering the workplace market from now on, and would never be applied to existing workers.

Police stop their strike

The police have called off their strike action after they were granted an audience on Thursday, December 12 with the minister for the interior Christophe Castaner, his junior minister Laurent Nuñez, and the pensions high commissioner, Jean-Paul Delevoye.

They agreed that their minimum retirement age should stay at 52, for those whose career has seen them work a number of years in dangerous roles and situations.

Public still largely in favour of strike

Almost two thirds (70%) of French people remain unconvinced by the Prime Minister’s speech on pensions, a new poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting for news source FranceInfo and newspaper Le Figaro has found.

A similar number (67%) say that he has not made significant concessions, and 60% say that they do not believe that the reforms will usher in a fair or sustainable pension system.

Almost two thirds (68%) say that strike action against the reforms is still justified, a percentage that has not dropped since a similar poll a week ago.

Unsurprisingly, support for the PM is highest among supporters of the ruling party LREM (82% said they were convinced by his words), and much lower among opposition parties (59% of LR supporters said they were not convinced, along with 61% of PS, 68% of EELV, 82% of Insoumis, and 83% of RN).

The poll was undertaken online on December 11-12 2019, over a representative sample of 1,002 French people aged 18 and over.

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