Workers in many French cities have held protests against government’s plan to raise the age for retirement.
In a day of nationwide strikes and protests, perceived as a major test for Emmanuel Macron and his presidency, many people took to the streets to reject the proposed pension changes that would extend the retirement age.
Demonstrations gathered thousands of people in the cities of Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes, Lyon and other places as strikes were severely affecting transport, schools and other public services across the country.
Under the pension reforms unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron’s government, French workers would have to work longer before receiving a full state pension, with the retirement age rising from 62 to 64.
In a country with an aging population and growing life expectancy where everyone receives a state pension, Macron’s government says the reform is the only way to keep the system running.
Labour unions argue that the change in pension age threatens hard-fought rights, and propose a tax on the wealthy or more payroll contributions from employers to finance the pension system. Polls suggest most French people also oppose the reform.
Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union, called the government’s plans an “unfair” reform and called on workers to “peacefully come (to the streets) to say they disagree.”
Police unions opposed to the retirement reform are also taking part in the protest, while those who are on duty are preparing for potential violence if extremist groups join the demonstrations.
According to the SNCF rail authority, majority of train trips around France have been canceled, including some international connections. About 20% of flights out of Paris’ Orly Airport have also been canceled and airlines are warning of delays.
Electricity workers pledged to reduce power supplies as a form of protest.
The ministry of National Education disclosed that about 34 to 42% of teachers were on strike, depending on schools. High school student unions were expected to join the protests.
Thierry Desassis, a retired teacher, called the government’s plan “an aberration.”
The strike also affected some monuments. The Versailles Palace was closed while the Eiffel Tower warned about potential disruptions and the Louvre Museum announced that some exhibition rooms will remain closed.
Many French workers expressed mixed feelings about the government’s plan and pointed to the complexity of the pension system.
Labor Minister Justifies Government’s Decision
French Labor Minister, Olivier Dussopt has justified the government’s decision to extend the retirement age from 62 to 64 because the government rejected other options such as raising taxes, which he said would hurt the economy and cost jobs, and reducing pension amounts.
However, Dussopt acknowledged “concerns” prompted by the pension plans that will require from workers “an additional effort.”
The Minister urged protestors not to block the economy of the country. “The right to strike is a freedom, but we do not want any blockades,” he said.
The French government will formally present the pension bill on Monday, January 22, 2023 and it heads to Parliament next month. Its success will depend in part on the scale and duration of the strikes and protests.
The planned changes provide that workers must have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to full pension.
For those who do not fulfil that condition, like many women who interrupted their career to raise their children or those who studied for a long time and started working late, the retirement age would remain unchanged at 67.
Those who started to work early, under the age of 20, and workers with major health issues would be allowed early retirement.
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