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Saturday, 15 May 2021

French trains disrupted by fresh strike over pension overhaul

AFP , Tuesday 24 Sep 2019
People demonstrate as part of a nation-wide movement against a looming pension system overhaul on September 24, 2019 in Marseille, southern Franc AFP

Trains were disrupted across France on Tuesday as labour unions went on strike over plans to overhaul the country's pension system, which critics say will push back the retirement age for millions of people.

The move came after Paris public transport was paralysed by a massive strike on September 13, and subsequent protests by lawyers, nurses and airline pilots.

Some 150 rallies are planned across France on Tuesday under the banner "Jobs, wages, public services, pensions: Stop the social decline!"

Hundreds of trains were cancelled, with the SNCF rail operator expecting just two out of five intercity trains to run, and three of five regional TER lines.

Most high-speed TGV trains were operating, but the main commuter RER lines serving the Paris region were hit hard, leading to traffic jams of more than 475 kilometres (300 miles) during the morning rush hour.

In some cities like Nice, all bus and tram services were halted.

"We already retire too late, when we're exhausted," said Marie-Paule Dano, a 66-year-old demonstrating in the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand.

"After working 44 years, our pensions are pitiful, and some have to take care of parents or sometimes children who are studying longer and longer," she said.

President Emmanuel Macron plans to implement a universal pension system that would do away with the more advantageous plans enjoyed by workers in a range of sectors, including state transport and utility companies.

Metro workers, for example, say the reforms would force them to work longer by removing long-held rights to early retirement, secured decades ago to compensate for long hours spent working underground.

"The government wants to cut spending and make us work longer," Philippe Martinez, head of the hard-line CGT union which called the strike, told France Culture radio on Tuesday.

The government has vowed to hold consultations with labour representatives while the bill is debated in parliament, with a vote expected by next summer.

Macron has already pushed through a series of reforms aimed at reviving economic growth and shaking up French institutions, including a series of tax cuts and labour market overhauls.

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