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What to expect for Tuesday’s French pension strikes

The final day of January marks the second - and almost certainly not the last - day of mass strike action in the ongoing battle between the French government and unions over pension reform. From planes and trains to school, ski lifts and power cuts - here's what to expect on Tuesday.

What to expect for Tuesday's French pension strikes
Demonstrators, including one holding a placard reading "Metro, work grave", march in protest at plans to reform the pension system. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

Unions have promised the ‘mother of all battles’ against Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the French pension system, including raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

5 minutes to understand French pension reform

However, the action for the moment is mostly concentrated into a series of one-day actions – the next ‘mass mobilisation’ is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31st. It is supported by all eight French trades union federations, which means that support is likely to be high and disruption severe on certain services.

Workers in essential services such as transport must declare their intention to strike 48 hours in advance, allowing transport operators to produce strike timetables, which are usually released 24 hours in advance. We will update this story as new information is released.

Trains

Rail unions are strongly backing the action, and on average only one in three of the normal TGV services will run on Tuesday, with just one quarter of services in the south-west. Intercité services will be halted entirely with the exception of three return services (Paris-Clermont, Paris-Limoges-Toulouse and Bordeaux-Marseille) while only two in 10 of the local TER services will run.

As for specific TGV lines, services in the north of the country will run 2 trains out of 5; services in the east will run 1 train out of 2; services in the west will run 1 train out of 4; services in the south east will run 1 train out of 2; and OUIGO services will run 2 trains out of 5.

International trains will also see heavy disruption with around one in four of normal services running, with the exception of the Thalys service to Belgium and the Eurostar.

SNCF also said on their website on Monday that Lyria (lines connecting France and Switzerland) will be “heavily disrupted”. You can see updated information on the SNCF website here.

Eurostar has cancelled seven services – three from London to Paris, three from Paris to London and one from Brussels to London – but all other trains will run as normal. 

Some unions have also filed a provisional strike notice running from 7pm on January 25th to 8am on February 2nd, with the option of a renewable strike after that – however it is not yet known how well supported this action will be. 

City public transport

Paris’ RATP network has released its provisional strike timetable, showing that most of the city’s Metro lines will only be running during rush hour, and with a limited service. Around half of the normal services will run on RER lines A and B, eight in 10 of the usual bus and tram services.

You can find full detail of the services in Paris HERE.

Other cities including Marseille, Nice, and Lyon will likely see a repeat of severely disrupted bus, tram and Metro services.

In Nice specifically, the tramway will not be operational on Tuesday. As for Lyon, the Metro B will not run, and other services will be disrupted.

In Marseille, Metro line 1 will not run all day, and on Metro line two will run every five to ten minutes. The tramway T3 will not be operational either. 

According to France Bleu, tram services in Nantes will run every six to eight minutes, with only a little more than 10 percent of bus and tram drivers will be on strike.

Air travel

One of the unions representing air traffic controllers has called for strike action on January 31st, however this will only affect flights arriving or leaving from Paris Orly airport. The civil aviation authority has specified some cancellations of flight arriving or leaving Orly between Monday evening and 6am on Wednesday – anyone with a flight booked at this time should check with their airline. 

Air France announced on Monday that it expected one in 10 of its short to medium haul flights to be cancelled on Tuesday due to strike action. The company said that it did not expect the strikes to cause any cancellations for long-haul flights.

The airline said that those whose flights are cancelled may be eligible for credit or full refunds. Air France is also offering to no-fee postponements for travel until February 7. Customers were advised to check their flight status prior to leaving for the airport via the Air France app or website.

Ports

The CGT union representing port and dock workers are also set to walk out on January 31st, but have filed a strike notice running from January 26th. Full details of their action are yet to be clarified, but this is likely to affect commercial ports rather than ferry ports. 

Schools

The major teaching unions have called for another 24-hour walkout, so some schools are likely to close. The January 19th action saw roughly half of teachers across France walk out.

The main teachers’ union Snuipp-FSU said on Monday that around half of all nursery and primary school teachers would be striking.

Ski lifts

The two unions that represent more than 90 percent of workers in ski resorts have called an ‘unlimited’ strike beginning on January 31st. So far Tuesday is the only confirmed strike day, but others could be announced. Strikes in ski resorts generally mainly affect the operation of ski lifts.

Petrol stations

The hardline CGT union has announced extra strike dates for workers at oil refineries, and also threatened blockades. This can result in shortages at petrol stations as supplies of petrol and diesel are blocked from leaving the refineries and reaching filling stations.

The head for the CGT union representing refinery workers, Eric Sellini, told Le Figaro on Tuesday that approximately 75 to 100 percent of workers in TotalEnergies’ primary four oil refineries – the Normandy refinery, Feyzin refinery in Rhone, Donges refinery in Loire-Atlantique, La Mède refinery in Bouches-du Rhône, and in  the fuel depot of Flanders in the north – planned to mobilise against pension reform.

Power cuts 

CGT members working in the state electricity sector have also threatened more ‘direct action’ including power cuts to selected towns. This is not a legitimate strike tactic – in fact France’s labour minister says it is “a criminal offence” and will be punished accordingly – but it could happen nevertheless. CGT members could also be taking action on January 27th and February 6th, 7th and 8th.

On January 19th two towns – one in the greater Paris region and one in northern France – lost power for a couple of hours in what was described as a deliberate cut. The union says it intends to target towns that elected MPs who support the pension reform.

Mairies

The Communist leader Fabien Roussel has called on town halls to close on Tuesday in ‘solidarity’ with the strikes. The decision is down to each individual commune, but in Paris the mayor Anne Hidalgo has announced that the mairie will close for the day, so you won’t be able to keep administrative appointments, although city services like bin collection will run as normal.

Demos

January 31st will also see another day of marches and demonstrations in towns and cities around France. On January 19th more than 1 million people took to the streets and unions will be hoping for a similar turnout on January 31st.

One feature of the demos on January 19th was the comparatively large turnout in smaller French towns that usually do not see large demos.

Other strike dates

The above information relates to January 31st only, and services before and after this date are expected to run as normal.

Some unions, however, have declared ‘unlimited’ strikes, so there could be disruptions on these services on other days – these include ski lift operators, truck drivers and oil refinery workers.

It is highly likely that further one-day or multi-day strikes will be announced for February and March, as the pension reform bill comes before parliament, you can keep up to date with out strike calendar HERE.

We will update this article as more information becomes available, and you can also keep up with the latest in our strike section HERE.

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STRIKES

France faces huge disruption as pension protests kick off

France woke up to a day of paralysis on Tuesday with transport blockages, mass strikes and demonstrations hitting the country for the second time in a month to protest a planned reform to raise the retirement age.

France faces huge disruption as pension protests kick off

Around one million people are expected to take to the streets nationwide, a police source told AFP, rallying against plans to boost the age of retirement from 62 to 64.

Some 11,000 police were mobilised across the country, with 4,000 deployed in Paris where several hundred extremist troublemakers were expected, according to the interior ministry.

France currently has the youngest age for becoming a pensioner in any major European economy.

On January 19, some 1.1 million voiced their opposition to the proposed shake-up — the largest protests since the last major round of pension reform in 2010.

Millions had to find alternative means of transport Tuesday, work from home or take time off to look after their school-age children, with workers in transport and education sectors among those staging walkouts.

“This is about more than pensions, it is about what kind of society we want,” 59-year-old university professor Martine Beugnet told AFP, saying she would take part in Tuesday’s protest.

Most Paris metro and suburban rail services were severely restricted, the capital’s transport operator RATP said.

Intercity travel was also disrupted, with just one in three high-speed trains likely to run, railway company SNCF predicted.

‘Get another train’ 

In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Cheikh Sadibou Tamamate, 36, arrived at the train station in the small hours of Tuesday, hoping to catch a morning train to Paris after the one he was booked on around 5:00 am (0400 GMT) never left.

“Unfortunately it was cancelled,” he said.

Sitting on a bench with an open laptop Guillaume Chaux, 32, said he discovered his train had been cancelled as he arrived at the station, but he still hoped to make it to London Tuesday.

“I’m looking at travel apps to see if I can get another train. Nobody has told me anything,” he said.

Air travel is to be less badly affected, with national carrier Air France saying it would cancel one in 10 short and medium-haul services, but long-distance flights would be unaffected.

Only minor disruptions were expected on international train services including the Eurostar.

Around half of all nursery and primary school teachers would be striking, the main teachers’ union Snuipp-FSU said.

France’s oil industry was mostly paralysed, with the hardleft CGT union at energy giant TotalEnergies reporting between 75 and 100 percent of workers on strike.

‘Non-negotiable’

Sixty-one percent of French people support the protest movement, a new poll by the OpinionWay survey group showed on Monday — a rise of three percentage points from January 12.

The most controversial part of the overhaul is hiking the minimum retirement age.

But the changes are also to increase the number of years people have to make contributions before they can receive a full pension.

President Emmanuel Macron put pensions reform at the heart of his re-election campaign last year.

The 45-year-old centrist on Monday said the changes were “essential when we compare ourselves to the rest of Europe”, where people typically retire later.

He insists they are necessary to guarantee the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to tip into deficit in the next few years.

But opponents point out that the system is currently balanced, quoting the head of the independent Pensions Advisory Council as saying: “Pension spending is not out of control, it’s relatively contained.”

The government has signalled there could be wiggle room on some of the suggested measures, but Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has said raising the age of retirement was “non-negotiable”.

Parliament committees started examining the bill on Monday, where Macron and his allies also face an uphill battle.

The left-wing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft legislation in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s centrist allies, short of an absolute majority, will need votes from conservatives to push through the new legislation.

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