French unions attack Emmanuel Macron’s retirement proposal

French unions saw a rebound in turnout on Tuesday in a new round of strikes and protests aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to abandon his plan to raise the minimum retirement age.

Rail company SNCF said services were severely disrupted and would remain so on Wednesday, urging travelers to postpone trips. Eurostar canceled 38 international trains connecting London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam in two days.

Paris subway and commuter schedules were also severely affected, according to operator RATP, which advised people to work from home if possible and predicted further disruption on Wednesday. Air France said it expected to operate eight out of 10 short and medium-haul flights over the two days.

Trucks could not access any of France’s six main oil refineries because of striking workers, which disrupted the supply of fuels such as gasoline and diesel at the country’s filling stations. Walkouts are prevented French Electricity hydropower in SA capacity of 5.6 gigawatts early Tuesday.

“This is the biggest day of mobilization since the start of this conflict,” CGT union head Philippe Martinez told reporters. “We see that people are still determined, and anger is still strong.”

Making the French work longer and retire later is a key plank of Macron’s plan to make the economy more attractive for investment and business. He says that raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 is necessary to keep public finances sound while funding other priorities such as the green transition.

Labor unions have shared broad opposition to the overhaul and are betting on a surge in the number of people taking part in a sixth round of protests on Tuesday after participation fell sharply in February from a peak of 1.27 million as of January 31, according to Interior Ministry estimates.

Provisional government figures show a sharp increase in public sector workers on strike. The numbers are smaller than those seen at the same time on the first day of protests on January 19. Labor leaders say many workers are limiting the number of days they walk to preserve earnings during the period. that the increase in inflation will push up the cost of living.

Opinion polls show that French opposition to the overhaul remains high, although it is not at its peak. A survey of 1,002 adults by the pollster Ifop for the newspaper L’Humanite conducted on March 2-3 showed that 65% of those interviewed wanted the government to withdraw the reform and support renewable strikes.

Macron’s government shows no sign of backing down, however. Indeed, a poll of 1,119 people by Harris Interactive for RTL radio and AEF Info on March 3-6 showed that 79% expected parliament to finally adopt the changes.

The legislation is under review in the Senate until March 12. The goal is for it to become effective in September.

Macron’s determination to push through reform despite public opposition is set against a backdrop of growing inflation concerns. French consumer prices jumped to a euro-era record of 7.2% in February from a year ago as food and service costs rose.

“Of course there is no good time to make a pension reform, but some times are worse than others – and this is a particularly bad one,” Bernard Sananes, president of pollster Elabe, said Bloomberg. “Pension reform adds another layer of hardship to those whose daily lives are already difficult, and this is what the government underestimates.”

On Monday, the French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire opened a deal with retailers where they agreed to take a hit on their margins amounting to several hundred million euros by offering the lowest possible prices for essential food items during the three month-long campaign to help households.

As for the impact of the strikes on the French economy, it should not be overestimated, according to Charlotte de Montpellier, ING senior economist for France and Switzerland.

“The disturbances, for now, are limited to some specific sectors, such as transportation,” he wrote. “Due to the increase in working at home since the pandemic, it is likely that the indirect costs of transport disruptions in other sectors of activity will be more limited than in previous strikes.”

The hit to economic growth could be measured if protests intensify and some sectors are blocked for weeks, he said, although an impact of more than 0.2 percentage points seems unlikely. can be.

–With help from Julien Ponthus and Francois de Beaupuy.

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