French pension protests pass two-month mark with new Paris demo

It's two months since mass transportation strikes first hit France as workers protested over planned changes to the French pension scheme - here's what's happening on the latest protest day.

French pension protests pass two-month mark with new Paris demo
Photo: AFP

French unions have called for another national day of protest against the government’s pension reform plan on Thursday – the day the plans come before the French parliament.

But, two months in to the social movement, the level of disruption was expected to be low compared to what the country saw in the early days of the social movement.

Transport is running almost as normal across the country – even in Paris, which was the area hardest hit by the unions' action in December.

A protest march is planned for Paris in the afternoon, and some Metro stations along the route of the march will close by order of the police.

The march is set to depart at the Gare de l’Est station at 1.30 pm and move west to end at Nation.

Source: Google Maps

The number of people taking to the streets on protest days has been dwindling since the beginning of the movement.

France's pension system: How it works and what does Macron want to change?

On January 29th, 108,000 people took to the streets nationally, according to the French Interior Ministry. In comparison, the number was 615,000 on December 17th.

The CGT union's estimates were higher, it said 180,000 people turned up in Paris alone on January 29th and 1.8 million nationally on December 17th. 

There are several reasons for the decline in people taking to the streets. Firstly, the financial strain on the workers taking part in the movement has been palpable.

French public sector workers forfeit their salaries during strikes. Rail employees who joined the mass-strike in December received empty pay slips in January.

Secondly, some of the unions have dropped out of the movement.

Four of the big worker’s unions – CGT, Force ouvrière, FSU, Solidaires and – were still taking part in the protests, but the more moderate CFDT and Unsa unions ceased their mobilisation against the reform in January.

This came following the government’s tentative backpedaling on one of the main points in the reform, the so-called ‘pivot age’ that would respectively penalise or reward those retiring before and after the age of 64.

Discussions are ongoing between the government and the unions are ongoing on the issue of a pension 'pivot age' that will give fuller pensions to those who work later than the legal retirement age of 62.

Transport has been running largely as normal for several weeks now, but workers in Paris waste depots have been staging blockades that have seen uncollected garbage piling up on the streets in some areas of the city.

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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.