French gov't seeks way to end social crisis as unions harden action against pension reform

2019-12-10 09:49:24Xinhua Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

While train and metro services remained heavily disrupted by a strike against pension reform on Monday for the fifth day in a row, the French government is stepping up efforts to justify pension reform, offering further talks with labor unions to dampen social anger.

The government's High Commissioner for Pensions Jean-Paul Delevoye and Minister for Solidarities and Health Agnes Buzyn convened on Monday afternoon the unions to discuss conclusions of month-long consultations on ways to overhaul the country's pension regime.

"I am convinced that the status quo is no longer bearable, that this project is necessary and that future generations will be grateful to us," Delevoye said after the meeting.

"The priorities that emerge (from talks) are demand for equity and solidarity," he added, noting that consultations would continue next year as some differences remained.

Taking into account unions' proposals, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will unveil on Wednesday full modalities of pension reform that he pledged to introduce "progressively, without harshness."

"I am convinced that with the trade unions we will find the right balance point that will reassure the workforce on their future without giving up our firm willingness to project the country into the future and set up the universal system," Philippe said on Friday.

President Emmanuel Macron will meet main figures of the ruling party -- the Republic On the Move -- and government officials on Tuesday evening as unions called for a second round of mass protests against pension reform.

The reform consisted in merging the variety of 42 different pension set-ups for different professions into a universal regime.

The proposed single system would use points so that each euro paid in would give the same retirement benefits no matter what sector pensioners worked in.

That meant to scrap the special transport worker status, which allows workers to retire on full pension at 52, a decade before other French employees.

Locking horns with unions over pension system had put previous French governments on the hot seat.

In 1995, unions of workers from the state-owned national railway company SNCF staged three weeks of strikes that paralyzed the country and forced then Prime Minister Alain Juppe to drop a retirement reform plan and a program of welfare cutbacks and resign.

"They have to pull the reform," Philippe Martinez, head of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), told France Info radio.

The leader of France's largest union in the public sector warned that "things are changing fast and the anger is huge ...The government should be attentive," he said.

Critics say the reform would effectively force people to work longer, in particular public sector workers who have been allowed to often retire earlier due to hard working conditions. The government argued that it is needed to bring the costly pension system into balance.

On Monday, train traffic and metro networks were heavily disrupted for the fifth successive day. SNCF said up to 15 percent of the trains were operational, spelling traffic chaos for millions of commuters.

For now the protest movement shows no sign of abating. Unions voted to extend the strike until Tuesday. Another countrywide rally is planned for Dec. 10 after at least 806,000 took to the streets across French cities last Thursday.


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