France impacted as unions protest raise in retirement age

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France impacted as unions protest raise in retirement age

Demonstrators were marching across France on Tuesday in a new round of protests and strikes against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64, in what unions hope to be their biggest show of force against the proposal.

Garbage collectors, utility workers, train drivers and others have walked off the job on Tuesday across France to show their anger at the reform.

More than 250 protests were expected in Paris and around the country against President Emmanuel Macron’s showcase legislation. The bill is under debate in the French Senate this week.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Paris, Marseille, Nice and other cities, including Nantes and Lyon where some minor clashes with police broke out.

Laurent Berger, the secretary-general of the CFDT union, said that based on initial figures, the numbers of demonstrators nationwide are expected to be the biggest since the beginning of the movement in January.

Unions threatened to freeze up the French economy with work stoppages across multiple sectors, most visibly an open-ended strike at the SNCF national rail authority.

Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, said “the goal is that the government withdraw its draft reform. Full stop,” on news broadcaster FranceInfo.

Some unions have called for open-ended strikes in sectors from refineries and oil depots to electricity and gas facilities. Workers in each sector will decided locally in the evening about whether to prolong the movement, Martinez said.

All oil shipments in the country have been halted on Tuesday amid strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies, Esso-ExxonMobil and Petroineos groups, according to the CGT.

Truckers have sporadically blocked major highway arteries and interchanges in go-slow actions near several cities in French regions.

In Paris, garbage collectors have started an open-ended strike and blocked on Tuesday morning the access to the incineration plant of Ivry-sur-Seine, south of the capital, Europe’s biggest such facility.

“The job of a garbage collector is painful. We usually work very early or late … 365 days per year. We usually have to carry heavy weight or stand up for hours to sweep,” said Regis Viecili, a 56-year-old garbage worker.

Some strikers said that such an intense rhythm has a negative impact on their daily life and that the job was so demanding that they often experienced tendinitis and aches. That’s why they have a special pension plan. But with the planned changes, they would have to retire at 59 instead of 57.

“A lot of garbage workers die before the retirement age,” Viceli said.

Figures from government statistics agency Insee showed that in the period 2009-2013, the latest period studied, the life expectancy of unskilled male workers was 6.4 years below the one of men in management positions — compared with 3.2 years of difference for female workers in each category.

A fifth of flights were canceled at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and about a third of flights were scrapped at Orly Airport. Trains to Germany and Spain were expected to come to a halt, and those to and from Britain and Belgium will be reduced by a third, according to the SNCF rail authority.