Rubbish piles up on Paris streets as pension strikes hit waste collection

France's trains may be running again but the whiff of discontent over the government's pension reforms still hangs thick in the air as a waste disposal strike begins to bite.

Rubbish piles up on Paris streets as pension strikes hit waste collection
Photo: AFP

Sidewalks in several parts of Paris have become obstacle courses of overflowing wheelie bins after 10 days of blockades at the city's incineration plants.

According to the hardline CGT union, 60 percent of the workers at the three huge incinerator plants – in  Ivry sur Seine (Val-de-Marne), Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts-de-Seine) and Saint-Ouen (Seine-Saint-Denis) – which process most of Paris' waste are on strike.

The majority of the city's waste collectors are not striking, but with the plants partially closed and the ovens turned off, there is nowhere to take the garbage

The workers at the incinerators are among those who would lose 'special regime' pensions allowing them to retire early under plans to reform and simplify the French pension system. They argue that they should continue to be allowed to stop work early because their life expectancy is seven years less than for the average French person.

In a city where public parks have battled rodent infestations in recent years, the trash pile-ups have raised public health concerns.

Pictures of the uncollected waste have been posted on Twitter alongside messages asking the government to intervene.

READ ALSO French government's pension reform bill – what is it all about?




Expressing the frustration of many Parisians, Catherine Lemoine, a resident of the chic 16th district, told AFP: “It's the strike after strike after strike that makes it a bit… unliveable! 

“And what's worrying is to see little rats running into the streets far more easily. It's an open bar!”

April Wood, an American tourist who was visiting the sights in Paris's Left Bank with her husband Andy, also expressed disgust.

“I think it is a deterrent as a tourist to have to witness it,” she said.

In the southern port city of Marseille, where workers have been blocking waste-sorting centres for the past 10 days, some 3,000 tonnes of garbage have piled up in the streets, according to local authorities.

The city has required unions to provide a minimum level of service and placed garbage tips out for residents to stop them dumping their trash directly on the street.

Tthe government's plans to fuse 42 different pension schemes – including the early retirement plans enjoyed by train drivers, Paris Opera employees and several other groups – into a single points-based system was the spark for mass transportation strikes that began on December 5th and paralysed public transport for many weeks.

Train drivers last month suspended their strike after 47 straight days of disruptions to the Paris metro and inter-city trains that caused travel misery for millions.

President Emmanuel Macron's government argues that its reforms are necessary to make the pension system, one of the most generous in Europe, fairer for all and more sustainable.

Critics say it will force most French people to work longer for reduced payouts.

Currently the government and unions are undertaking three months of talks to try and come up with an alternative to a 'pivot age' proposal that would force French people to work until the age of 64 in order to get a full pension. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says he is willing to scrap the pan – but only if unions can come up with a way to balance the books without it.


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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.