Paris: French labour unions staged fresh nation-wide protests against President Emmanuel Macron's plan to overhaul pension reform, leading to traffic disruptions and road closures. In a sixth round of nation-wide protests, 187,000 demonstrators on Thursday flooded the streets once again, including 23,000 in Paris, Xinhua news agency quoted the Interior Ministry as saying.
"It's never too late to force a government to cave in," said Philippe Martinez, head of the far-left CGT union who headed the Paris rally.
In one of his major campaign promises, Macron has proposed to merge a variety of 42 different pension set-ups for different professions into a universal system. The new single regime would use points so that each euro paid in would give the same retirement benefits no matter what sector pensioners worked in. The government argued the reform was needed to bring costly pension system, which is almost entirely borne by the state, into balance.
Critics have said that it would effectively force people to work longer, in particular public sector workers that have been allowed to retire earlier often because of hard working conditions. "We won't give up..." said, Yves Veyrier, head of FO union. "Let's put this bill definitely aside, drop it and get back to the negotiating table."
Strikes at national railway SNCF and Paris metro RATP entered their 43rd day on Thursday, making it the country's longest transport strike since 1968. The unions have vowed to maintain their open-ended industrial action despite of dwindling turnout.
On Thursday, only 10 per cent of workers at the state-run SNCF company stopped working, compared with more than half when the strikes began on December 5, 2019.
The government has also offered concession to temporally remove the most contested measure of "pivotal age" which encourages workers to extend their careers by two years to 64 to have full pension.
As unions' anger endures, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the strikes were "dead end" as "the government's determination to set up this universal pension system and therefore to eventually remove the special schemes is total." "The transport strike against pension reform will go nowhere, the government is determined," Philippe said.
Widely seen as a taboo, pension overhaul had failed during the previous governments.