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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

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France: Another Nationwide Strike By Workers Against Govt’s Pension Reform

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France was hit by a second nationwide strike which hindered electricity production, public transport and schools on Tuesday, as workers protested against the government’s scheme to make people work longer before retirement.

Very few TGV trains were working and even fewer local and regional trains. The strike also disrupted the Paris metro which led to chaos on the platforms as people struggled to get to the very few available trains.

Catherine, a 59-year-old legal assistant at the Concorde metro station in the heart of Paris, said she didn’t mind waiting for a train or walking in its place.

Speaking to the British news agency Reuters, she said, “I support them, I’ll soon be 60, so I’m really not happy with having (to work) two more years.”

However, not everyone agreed. A 34-year-old worker of a luxury sector, Matthieu Jacquot, speaking to Reuters, said, “There’s no point in going on strike. This bill will be adopted in any case.”

The situation was such that half of the primary school teachers quit the job, along with oil refinery staff and public broadcasters, who played music instead of news programmes.

Students also joined in the protest by blocking Turgot high school in central Paris and holding placards with the slogans “Support to the workers” and “Angry youth.”

In order to keep pressure on the government, unions have arranged rallies around France throughout the day. They plan to announce additional industrial action for the upcoming weeks.

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

Opinion polls reflect the majority of the French people are not in support of the reform. They are already anguished over high inflation which has generated a cost-of-living crisis. However, President Emmanuel Macron does not seem to waver from his announcements. He said on Monday that the reform is “vital” to ensure the viability of the pension system.

The government’s reform will have the retirement age increased to 64 from 62 which would also delay the eligibility age for a full pension.

The Labour Ministry estimates that these actions would result in an increase of $19.18 billion in yearly pension contributions.

Protestors call the reform “unfair”

According to Unions, there are several options to increase revenue, like increasing the tax on the super-rich or urging employers or rich pensioners to contribute more.

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

The unions are hoping for a similar level of participation to the first national day of protest on January 19, when more than a million people demonstrated throughout France.

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