French Parliament debates pension reforms amid nationwide strikes

by IANS |

Paris, March 16 (IANS) As hundreds of thousands of people protested across France over controversial pension reforms, a joint committee of Parliament debated the draft text of the bill.

After eight hours of talks, the committee of seven senators and seven members of the National Assembly reached a consensus late Wednesday night on details of the text of the bill, particularly articles concerning long careers, mothers, and long-term contracts for seniors, reports Xinhua news agency.

The final version of the text will be sent to the French Senate on Thursday morning, and the National Assembly later in the afternoon for a decisive vote.

The French Senate, which is dominated by ring-wing parties, adopted the bill on March 11.

Since then, unions and people working in France have been putting pressure on the National Assembly to maintain the current legal retirement age of 62.

The Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday evening that 480,000 people across the country had participated in the eighth general mobilization against the reforms, organised by the unions.

However, the country's largest union, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), said the figure was much higher.

CGT said that more than 1.7 million people took to the streets to defend their retirement scheme.

French workers also went on strike on Wednesday, to support their unions and push deputies to consider dropping the pension reforms.

Following Wednesday's general mobilisation, many public service sectors announced that they would extend their strikes, but services will be less disrupted.

The public transport operator in the Ile-de-France region (RATP) said traffic will be as normal on Thursday, except for the express trains that connect Paris and the suburbs.

The country's national railway company SNCF said that two out of three fast trains and three out of five inter-city trains would operate on Thursday, but rail traffic in Ile-de-France will remain heavily disrupted.

Meanwhile, air traffic authorities have also ordered airlines to cancel 20 per cent of their flights leaving Paris Orly Airport on Thursday, as they did on Wednesday.

However, garbage is likely to continue accumulating in the capital, since refuse collectors and street cleaners will be on strike until March 20.

According to the city hall, some 76,000 tonnes of garbage are to be collected as of Thursday in Paris.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has asked Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to use administrative measures to force refuse collectors and street cleaners to come back to work, but she has refused.

Darmanin told the Senate on Wednesday that if the city hall continues refusing to make staff requisitions in order to maintain a minimum service, the Paris Police would do it, as it is a "question of public health".

Major unions also announced on Wednesday evening that they would be marching in front of the National Assembly on Thursday to try "one last time" to influence deputies to reject the pension reform bill.

In 2021, France's expenditure on the pension system equaled 13.8 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

However, the country's Pensions Advisory Council (COR) has warned that the share of pension expenditure will rise sharply from 2027 to 2032 due to a sharp contraction in GDP, to between 14.2 per cent and 14.7 per cent.

In a report published by the COR in September 2022, the pension system watchdog said that from 2022 to 2032, the country's pension system would be in deficit.

Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne laid out details of the pension reform plan in January, under which the legal retirement age would be progressively raised by three months a year from 62 to 64 by 2030, and a guaranteed minimum pension would be introduced.

Under the plan, as of 2027, at least 43 years of work would be required to be eligible for a full pension.

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