Strikes in France hit transport on Wednesday as PM unveils pension reforms

Mass transport strikes across France entered their seventh day on Wednesday, as the French Prime Minister will finally announce details of the government's pension reforms. Here's what's happening.

Strikes in France hit transport on Wednesday as PM unveils pension reforms
Photo: AFP

LATEST: French government unveils pension reforms – Here's what you need to know


Transport services are once again badly disrupted on Wednesday as workers continue their indefinite strikes over plans to reform the French pension system.

There are also calls for two further days of mass walk-outs and demonstrations – on Thursday, December 12th and Tuesday, December 17th.

Although most transport workers are on 'indefinite' strike, many other professions – including teachers – have opted for one-day walk-outs, of which there have been two so far.

Philippe Martinez, leader of the hardline CGT union, on Tuesday evening called for two further 'days of protest' where more workers would walk out and unions will stage marches and demonstrations in the big French cities.

He said workers would 'never' back down and the ball is now in the government's court.


Unions are fearful that under the government's proposed reforms workers – especially in the public sector – will end up working longer and for smaller pensions.

The official retirement age in France is 62, one of the lowest among developed countries. 

But the government says that the current system of 42 different pension regimes is a mess and needs to be streamlined and simplified into one universal system.

READ ALSO French transport strikes: What happens next and how long will they last?

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. Photo: AFP

France's Prime Minister insisted Wednesday that the government would push ahead with reforms to the country's fragmented pension system but offered concessions to unions as a crippling strike entered its seventh day.

In a televised address French PM Edouard Philippe said the highly-contested pension changes would be implemented in phases, “without brutality”, and would not affect workers born before 1975.

For more details on the reforms unveiled by Philippe you can click on this link.

But even if a spirit of conciliation does enter the air, there is widespread disruption on transport on Wednesday, most likely continuing at least until the weekend.

Some labour leaders have vowed to fight through until Christmas.

“Pensions are the glue of all discontent,” the leader of the hardline CGT union Philippe Martinez told France 2 television.

READ ALSO French unions: We won't stop the strikes until the government backs down

Here are the main points for Wednesday:

On the railways there is a slight improvement with one in four of the high speed TGV services running.

Overall cancellations are running at about 80 percent of services.


The railway disruption also applies to international rail services, as French signallers are among the strikers so any service that uses French railways is affected.

Eurostar has already cancelled some of its services until Friday, December 13th – click here for more information.

The same applies to international rail operators Thalys – which run services between France, Belgium and the Netherlands – and Lyria, which run services to Switzerland, both have already cancelled services up to Friday.

In Paris, employees on the public transport network RATP have already announced that they will be striking until at least the end of Thursday, so services are again facing big disruption.

Many Metro lines are closed altogether with only Lines 1 and 14 – which are automated – running as normal. Many other lines are running a limited service and only during rush hour, although the number of lines that are at least partially open has increased slightly since the strike began on December 5th.

The bus and tram network is also operating a limited service, as well as suburban RER trains, which have seen severe overcrowding in recent days as desperate suburbs-dwellers squeeze on to the few services running in and out of the city.

READ ALSO Why those in the Paris suburbs are the worst hit by the ongoing French strikes

On the roads in and around the city traffic is bad again, recent days have seen traffic jams of up to 600km at rush hour in the greater Paris area.


And anyone driving in France is advised to be aware that blockades are continuing at seven of France's eight oil depots, meaning that many petrol stations are running dry. Click here for an interactive map showing which stations are still open.

In the air things have improved with fewer cancellations and most services running, however there is likely to be some knock-on effects after 20 percent of services were cancelled on Tuesday. Passengers are advised to check with their airline.

But there's good news for any parents who were left arranging emergency childcare on Tuesday as the teachers who were on strike on Tuesday – around 30 percent of Paris teachers and 10 percent nationwide – are mostly back in the classroom on Wednesday.

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French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.