French Pension Talks Failed Ahead of New Protests

Wed Apr 05 2023
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PARIS: Unions in France have called for a record turnout at protest rallies following the failure of last-ditch talks with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Wednesday over a divisive pension reform.

The reform proposed by President Emmanuel Macron includes raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, a move which has sparked months of mass protests across the country.

The latest protests come ahead of the country’s Constitutional Council giving its final say on the pension changes on April 14, the last step before they are signed into law.

The French government has argued that the changes are necessary to prevent the pensions system from plunging into deficit, but critics say the pensions reform is unjust and unfair for workers in tough jobs who start their careers early, as well as women who interrupt their work life to raise children.

Unrest erupted after Prime Minister Borne on March 16 invoked a controversial executive order to ram the bill through parliament without a vote.

French unions call for fresh protests

Union chiefs called for French masses to take to the streets and strike en masse on Thursday during an 11th day of countrywide action against the bill. Sophie Binet, the new energetic leader of the CGT trade union, called for more protests and strikes until the government withdraws the pension reform. “We can not move on to anything else until this reform is repealed,” she said.

Cyril Chabanier, speaking on behalf of the eight main unions of the country, described the talks as “clearly a failure” after barely an hour of discussions. “We again told the prime minister (PM) that the only democratic result could be the withdrawal of the text.

The prime minister responded that she wished to maintain the text, a grave decision,” he added.

Thursday’s protest comes amid accusations of disproportionate use of force by police in handling the unrest, but the interior minister has said security forces were responding to “far-left” radicals.

A record of more than 1.2 million people marched against the reform nationwide on March 7, according to official figures, but numbers have since largely waned, and strike attendance has diminished in recent weeks.

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