Protests in France Over Pension Changes


Photo: Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

Natalie Kees

France is experiencing one of its biggest strikes in decades as public sector workers protest against the planned pension reforms that would see them retiring later or facing reduced payouts.

This nation-wide strike is having a major impact on the transportation systems of France. The French national rail company, SNCF, canceled 90% of its trains on December 5th, and the Parisian metro closed 11 out of its 16 lines. Hundreds of flights were canceled as well. France’s education ministry expects over half of its teaching staff to go on strike nationwide. There are also about 250 official demonstrations scheduled across the country. According to the French newspaper, Le Monde, more than 180,000 people are taking to the streets in 30 different parts of France. Teachers and transport workers have been joined by police, lawyers, hospital and airport staff, and other professions for a general walkout. “We know that there will be a lot of people in the demonstrations and we know the risks (…) I asked that systematically as soon as there will be disorders, urban riots, violence, we can question all immediately,” Said Christophe Castaner, the Minister of the Interior of France (quote translated from french).

Protests have gotten so out of hand in Paris that the police headquarters took a decree prohibiting “any gathering of people in a perimeter including the Elysee and the Ministry of the Interior; As well in the sectors of the National Assembly, the Hôtel de Matignon, and the Notre-Dame-de-Paris cathedral.” This decree also prohibits carrying weapons and objects that can be used as weapons, as well as objects that can be used to hide the face, within these areas.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to introduce a universal points-based pension system. That would replace France’s current system, which has 42 different pension plans with different variations in retirement age and benefits. Tomasz Michalski, professor of economics at HEC Paris business school, said that for every 10 euros that a worker earns in income, that person will get one point under the new system. “But how will these points be translated into benefits?,” Michalski questioned. The full details of Macron’s ‘reforms’ have not yet been officially put to Parliament. The strike is preemptive action and does not have a set end date, meaning it could last for some time.

Past attempts to change the Parisian pension system have also been met with strong protest from public sector workers. Back in 1995, President Jacques Chirac ended up giving into union demands after his pension reform plans were opposed with weeks of protest, which crippled the transport system for three weeks. The Macron administration hopes to avoid a repeat of this incident. However, it is still unclear how current President Macron might react to the strike action. French public support seems to be behind the strikers rather than the government, as a BBC opinion poll predicted almost three fourths of the public support the protests happening throughout the country.

Train driver Cyril Romero from Toulouse told France Info he would reconsider his job if the proposed reforms passed. “I started in 2001 with a contract that allowed me to leave at 50. But like everyone else, I got the reforms which pushed back my early retirement age to 52-and-a-half and then, in reality, 57-and-a-half for full pension. Now they want to make us work even longer.” However, Michalski from HEC business school pointed out that “if you are working from home with your kids (because transport is limited and schools are closed), you will be angry.”

With everyone in the nation of Paris confused and frustrated, no one knows just how long these protests plan to continue, or what will happen when the tension filled country finally reaches its breaking point.