French commuters have been left stranded after the strike action by public transport hits the ninth day on Friday, pinning their hopes for an end to the daily misery on the government’s offer of fresh negotiations with unions over a contested pensions overhaul.
Many travellers are reconsidering their holiday travel plans as unions stood united in their opposition to the government’s plans to fuse the country’s 42 pension schemes into a single, points-based system.
“It is very complicated,” 23-year-old child carer Elsa told AFP at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station, complaining of the overcrowded trains. Every day since the strike started, she has had to get up early to not miss her train into town, then walk a long way to work.
“If this (the strike) goes on, I will have to keep doing this. It is exhausting, but I have no choice. Not all work can be done from home.”
The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe this week angered even the moderate CFDT union by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a so-called “pivot age” of 64 a “red line” for unions.
They called for new mass demonstrations for Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France’s notoriously militant unions, which have vowed to continue fighting through the holidays if necessary.
Philippe said Thursday that he would call union leaders to “quickly resume the dialogue” and proposed talks “as soon as possible next week.”
“My door is open and my hand outstretched,” Philippe said on Twitter.
President Emmanuel Macron, who has spoken little about a centrepiece of his far-ranging reform drive for France, told reporters in Brussels Thursday that “now is the time for consultations.”
But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned that “There won’t be any Christmas truce” unless the government drops the plan entirely.
The reform will scrap early retirement and other benefits for mainly public-sector workers — particularly those at state rail operator SNCF and the Paris public transport group RATP.