No end in sight for hobbling French rail strikes after talks
PARIS (AP) — The French government and unions appeared still far apart after talks resumed Tuesday over fiercely contested pension reform proposals that have triggeredrecord-settingstrikes on the country’s train network.
On another day of walkouts that caused more misery for Paris commuters, the strikes spread to oil refineries, raising the prospect of disruption for motorists too
Following morning discussions with the unions, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe struck a determined tone, sticking to the government’s tight timetable for getting its pension proposals through parliament before the summer recess.
But the CGT union came out of the talks vowing more strikes and calling for more people to take the streets. The strikes on the rail network have overtaken those in the 1980s for longevity, and are now the longest the SNCF has suffered.
The protracted battle over the government’s pension reforms is proving to be one of the toughest domestic tests for President Emmanuel Macron since his 2017 election on a platform of promises to modernize the French economy.
Philippe said the pension reform bill will be presented to the Cabinet on Jan. 24 and for parliamentary debate from Feb. 17. He added that further discussions with unions would drill down into the minutiae of the government’s plans.
But union representatives gave a grim readout of Tuesday’s encounter at the Labor Ministry.
“The strikes aren’t about to stop,” said Catherine Perret of the CGT union, who urged people to turn out en masse for rallies called for Thursday.
Among the principal points of contention is the proposal to push back the age at which retirees would be eligible for full pensions, from 62 to 64.
The government also wants to end some of the special pension deals that allow a minority of workers to retire in their fifties. It insists the new system will be fairer to all French workers and will make the pension system financially sustainable into the future.
“To find a compromise, everyone has to budge a little bit,” Philippe said on RTL radio.
Tuesday marked the 34th day of disruptive train strikes and walkouts in the Paris Metro. The strikes are set to continue on Wednesday with the SNCF train authority saying that six of 10 trains will be running nationally. The RATP public transport authority for the Paris region said normal service was only likely for the two automated Metro lines with partial service on most others and numerous stations closed.
Oil refinery workers joined the walkouts wit h union leaders vowing that “not a drop” of gasoline would be allowed through strikers’ lines. Their involvement piles the pressure on the government by raising the spectre of possible shortages at pumps for motorists.
Workers were striking at all eight of France’s refineries, with their walkouts planned to last through Friday, CGT delegates said.
The government played down the impact of refinery disruptions, saying France has fuel stocks to last beyond three months and that more than 98% of the country’s 11,000 gas stations are completely unaffected.