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Crowds hit streets as French pension strike stalls transport

Emmanuel Macron

General

Crowds hit streets as French pension strike stalls transport

Protesters took to the streets around France on Thursday as a strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans hit public transport and air traffic.

The Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris was all but deserted in the Monday rush hour, with the departure board showing just seven trains scheduled to leave between then and 6:53 pm (1753 GMT).

State railway company SNCF said only one in 10 long-distance trains would be running, while most of the Paris metro’s 16 lines were either shut down or offering a minimum peak-hour only service.

Many schools have closed, with the Education Ministry saying almost half the country’s teachers had joined the strike.

Junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said 20 to 30 per cent of flights had also been cancelled.

Civil aviation authorities said 20 per cent of flights would also have to be cancelled on Friday.

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The Eiffel Tower closed for the day, as did the Musee d’Orsay modern art gallery, where an Australian tourist who gave his name as Frank told DPA he’d come there to show his son the museum.

“It’s closed, we’re very disappointed,” he said.

Chinese and Japanese tourists meanwhile struggled to understand the notice about the closure, which was written only in French, English and Spanish.

Outside the closed Opera metro station in central Paris, an Argentinian tourist waiting with a suitcase said she was looking for a bus to the airport.

“I hope my plane will take off,” she added.

With Paris workers encouraged to work from home or use ride-sharing apps and e-scooters, the two working metro lines were not exceptionally busy.

A monitoring site showed road traffic around Paris well below normal.

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Paris police ordered shops along the route of a trade union march to close with the march getting underway in the afternoon.

Police chief Didier Lallement said that 6,000 officers would be deployed to secure the protest.

Officers had checked 6,476 people and arrested 65, according to police.

The capital’s last major trade union march, the traditional May Day parade, degenerated into clashes when radical protesters threw missiles at police who responded with charges and copious tear gas.

The hardline CGT trade union accused police at the time of not distinguishing in their response between the radicals and peaceful protesters.

Macron is seeking to implement a campaign promise to replace France’s more than 40 pension schemes with a single universal system that would, he argued, treat all workers equally.

Public transport and public hospital staff are particularly worried about the pension reform plans as they currently benefit from early retirement rights that are likely to be phased out.

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Initial proposals suggest that early retirement regimes similar to those currently in place will be kept only for the security forces, firefighters and sailors.

CGT leader Philippe Martinez said that Macron’s pension reform would “worsen inequality,” as the new system would be based on whole-career earnings without making allowances for individual or career-related circumstances.

Where public sector workers enjoy earlier retirement rights than people in similar jobs in the private sector, those rights should be extended to all rather than abolished for all, he told RMC radio.

Djebbari acknowledged that the strike could drag on for days.

The Elysee meanwhile said that Macron was following the situation “closely, with calm and determination.”

NAN

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