French commuters face 12th day of transport strike over pensions

PARIS (AFP) – French commuters endured a 12th day of misery yesterday as the government and unions traded blame for a crippling transport strike over a pensions overhaul that has put holiday travel plans at risk for thousands.

Some 630 kilometres of traffic jams clogged Paris and its suburbs during the morning rush hour, nearly double the average levels, as most metro lines were again closed or operating just a handful of trains.

Across France, just one in three high-speed TGV trains and one in four regional trains were running, though most cities were not enduring the chaos seen in the capital.

“Until now I’ve been working from home or taking my car,” a man who gave his name as Francois told AFP at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris, saying he had left home at just before 5am. “But the car is no longer an option, because of the cost but also because it’s exhausting.”

Unions plan a fresh day of mass demonstrations and insist the government must abandon planned pension reforms that they say could force millions of people to work longer before retiring.

Mass walkouts are again expected by teachers, hospital workers and other public employees as well as by lawyers protesting over plans to introduce a single pension system that would do away with 42 separate regimes. The government has said it is willing to negotiate, in particular a “pivot age” of 64 that would grant rights to a full pension, but has defended a key project of President Emmanuel Macron’s wide-reaching reform drive.

“Going on strike is legitimate, but you can also respect events like the year-end festivities,” Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne told France 2 television, saying it would be “irresponsible” of union leaders to “ruin vacations”.

Rail operator SNCF has already warned that unless the strike ends in a few days, it will not have time to get service back to normal by December 25.