French begin nationwide strike action against Macron's pension reforms

French citizens across the country have begun strike action today, 5 December, against the government’s planned pension reforms.

Organised by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and other unions, the strikes will also see people take to the streets in Paris and other cities in the country. National and international rail services such as the TGV and Eurostar will be affected along with regional services.

Flights and air traffic control will also be impacted, and most teachers, health workers and firefighters are also said to be striking. Students are also said to be taking part in the marches arguing for an “improvement of the current system”.

The CGT said the support it has received for the strike action has hit a level never reached before, with it expected to be the biggest public sector strike since 1995.

The movement has the support of the International Trade Union Confederation (Perc) president Irakli Petrashvili, said: “Throughout Europe and more globally in the world, we look carefully at your fight, and your struggle against the government’s unfair pension plans.”

"We are worried about the decline of social democracy in France, noted in March last year by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, when she pointed out the excessive use of the violence by the police in the repression of social movements,” he stated.

According to the Elabe survey on 7 November, 64 per cent of French citizens approve of the action taking place today.

Last week, Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe reaffirmed his committed to the reforms, and said the government is determined to build a universal retirement system.

Despite today’s strikes, Phillipe said last week that conversations with trade unions and employers are continuing, and although there are “points of divergence, there is also a convergence”.

He also argued that the proposed pension system will better protect women in the country, who country have pensions, on average, 40 per cent less than men.

"We also want to better protect workers who leave with very low pensions despite a lifetime of work, and better protect those with alternate periods of unemployment and participation and who have accidents or illness,” he said.

Phillipe said the government would “take the time it needs” and the transition should not be “immediate and brutal”.

It is expected that consultations on the reforms will be completed by 10 December 2019. The Prime Minister will set out “precisely” how the government will present the reforms to parliament in early 2020.

President Emmanuel Macron is attempting to reform the current pension system and increase the retirement age from 62 to 64. Under plans by the government, only when French citizens reach 64 will they be allowed to receive a full state pension.

The government special adviser on pension reform, Jean-Paul Delevoye, said in a report published in summer that workers would still be able to retire at 62, as promised by Macron in his campaign, but they would have to work two years extra to receive the full pension without any discount in the new system, which is due to take effect from 2025.

The government hopes the reform can simplify the French pension system and unify 42 different schemes into a single points-based system.

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