France: Hundreds of thousands keep up pension reform protests ahead of crucial vote in parliament

France: Hundreds of thousands keep up pension reform protests ahead of crucial vote in parliament
Credit: Belga

A total of 480,000 people marched in France on Wednesday, the eighth day of countrywide protests and strikes called by trade unions against an unpopular pension reform, according to an estimate by the Ministry of the Interior.

The CGT trade union federation counted 1.78 million demonstrators.

The latest demonstrations were held on the eve of the submission of the reform to separate votes in the two houses of the France’s parliament.

Bill should have easy time in the Senate

French President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to meet on Wednesday evening with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and some of the main ministers concerned by the reform. Sources in the presidential camp said he was not considering “at this stage” passing the reform without a vote by using Article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows a text to be adopted without a vote.

Deputies and senators reached an agreement on Wednesday on a joint version of the disputed draft, with the most decried measure being the postponement of the legal retirement age to 64.

On Thursday, this text will be submitted to a vote in the Senate, where the right-wing and centrist majority is expected to approve it.

A harder sell in the National Assembly

It will then go to the National Assembly, where the presidential camp does not have an absolute majority.

There, the vote is uncertain: while the right-wing Les Républicains party wants to adopt the reform, many dissidents in its ranks are keeping the suspense alive.

“I say to parliamentarians, don’t vote for this law, it is disconnected from the concrete reality of work,” Laurent Berger, secretary general of the reformist CFDT federation, said on Wednesday.

The main French trade unions have urged legislators to vote against the bill. They plan to hold a press conference outside the National Assembly on Thursday to try to influence the vote one last time.

Reform linked to pension funds' financial situation and ageing population

France is one of the European countries with the lowest legal retirement age, although the pension systems are not completely comparable.

The French government has chosen to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 in response to a financial deterioration in pension funds and the ageing of the population.

Detractors consider the proposed reform “unfair,” especially for women and employees with strenuous jobs, and since January 19, millions of French people have expressed their rejection of it through demonstrations and strikes.

Garbage collectors vow to continue strike through Monday ...

Wednesday marked the tenth day of strikes by garbage collectors in Paris, who are among those opposed to the reform. As a result, the pavements of the world’s tourism capital are cluttered with trash – more than 7,600 tonnes of it, according to City Hall.

Garbage collectors and cleaners in the French capital voted on Tuesday night to continue their strike “at least until 20 March.”

In addition to rubbish collection in several French cities, renewable strikes are continuing in several other key sectors.

Strikers from the CGT Energie union, for example, have threatened to lower the pressure in gas networks, which could deprive power stations and some industrial customers of gas.

LNG workers too

Employees at four French liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and 11 storage sites have renewed their strike until early next week.

Several refineries are still on strike and rail and air transport remain disrupted.

President Macron is staking a significant amount of his political credit on this reform, a flagship measure of his second five-year term, but it is crystallising the discontent of a section of the French population against him.

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