Tensions mount over French transport strike

PARIS (AFP) – Tensions between the French government and unions opposed to pension reforms mounted yesterday as a crippling transport strike entered its 11th day.

The overhaul, unveiled this week by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, would do away with the 42 separate pension systems – some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.

Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called “pivot age” of 64.

Strike organisers have announced a massive protest for tomorrow when tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets again.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reform after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before the holiday.

The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their holiday plans will fall through.

Philippe told the Parisien daily in an interview for its yesterday edition that the French would not accept being “deprived” of festive transport options. “I can well see that everyone is worried as they see holiday near,” he said.

On Friday, he asked SNCF chief Jean-Pierre Farandou to draw up a list of the exact trains that would be running during the festive season.

But the unions have said they will not give in – and that the government would have to.