Protestors hold a banner during a demonstration in Paris, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Since Thursday (December 5), hundreds of thousands of protesters including railway workers, teachers, and hospital staff, have been staging one of the biggest strikes in France in decades against the government’s pension reform project.
The strike is expected to continue for at least the next few days, and will affect intercity commutes as well.
The background and context
The protesters argue that President Emmanuel Macron's proposed pension reforms will force them to make a choice between working for long hours and receiving lower payments.
The protests are the second during Macron’s presidency, after last year’s “Yellow Vest” or “gilets jaunes” protests that were triggered by general discontent, especially high fuel prices and cost of living.
Last month, demonstrators from across France protested in Paris to mark one year of the Yellow Vest protests. The railway unions in France had already called for the December 5 strikes by then.
A professional road transport organisation in France had intended to carry out 15 blocking operations on Saturday (December 7) to protest against the increase in taxes on diesel, French media organisations reported.
What are these pension reforms?
Through the pension reforms, Macron aims to merge the pension system -- one of his core election promises -- which currently has 42 sector-specific pension schemes, with different levels of contributions and rewards, into one central points-based system.
The French government spending on pensions is among the highest in the world, at 14 percent of their economic output, according to a Reuters report.
As per the reformed pension schemes, each day that a worker works will earn them a point for future pension benefits. Macron maintains that a points-based single pension scheme will be fairer and less complicated.
At the moment, pension benefits in France are based on a worker’s 25 highest earning years in the private sector, and the last six months in the public sector.
Additionally, the retirement age in France is 62, one of the lowest among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
While Macron has not indicated that the retirement age will be pushed back, he has, indeed, said that workers in France will be required to work for longer.
Even so, this is not the first time that French people are protesting against a change in the pension scheme.
In 2007, rail and public transport workers staged a similar strike against then President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans for pension reforms.