France strike: Travel Woes As General Strike Enters 2nd Day (Reports).

The strikes are against government plans to remove 42 “special” pension schemes and switch to a universal points-based pension system for all workers, public and private. The finer details of the reforms are still unclear, but the direction points towards workers having to work for longer, with less generous pensions when they retire.

The reform would mean pensions are based on a career average rather than a final salary calculation, as it currently is. And workers would have to accumulate a number of points (based on time worked) in order to start taking their pension.

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Under current pension regimes, some workers such as train drivers can take their pension from the age of 52, which was originally seen as compensation for tough working conditions such as difficult hours and shift work. The changes would mean a rise in the retirement age, currently to 62, and would end differential treatment.

Public support

The strike has a relatively high level of public support. According to one opinion poll, 46% support the strikes but other reports show 69% backing. But polls also show that 76% of French people are in favor of pension reforms. This is because the strike is more broadly viewed as protest action against the president, Emmanuel Macron, and the government in general.

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Over the last 15 years, France has introduced radical changes into its labor law, which has accelerated under Macron. He was elected in 2017 with a clear manifesto to reform, and put a halt to, the “régimes spéciaux” (special employment schemes) that exist mainly in France’s public sector, which has more advantageous employment rights than the private sector.

In 2018 the government was able to push through reforms to change the protected status of railway workers. There was a showdown but the government won this battle. Now, it is looking to carry through one of the most controversial reforms set out by Macron. His government is holding firm, saying that the changes “will go through because they are necessary and fair”.

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Chances of success

French trade unions have had several battles with the government in the last 15 years, but apart from protests in 2006—which halted the introduction of a new employment contract for young workers—governments have managed to push through changes to the labor market.

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