French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to overhaul his country’s pension system sparked a massive strike in France this week, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets. Photo: Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA/Shutterstock
PARIS - 18 December 2019: The French government and labour unions will face off on Wednesday over a pensions overhaul, 14 days into a crippling transport strike that is hurting businesses, wearing out commuters and casting a shadow over holiday plans.
After hundreds of thousands took to the streets on Tuesday, both sides stood firm ahead of a series of meetings, with government officials having said they are ready to negotiate.
Union leaders have vowed to continue their action into the new year as the government defended its plan to forge the country's 42 pension schemes into a single, points-based system.
With attitudes appearing to be hardening, the hardline CGT union claimed it had cut electricity to tens of thousands of homes in the Gironde department in the southwest and the cities of Lyon, Nantes and Orleans on Tuesday, and about 2,000 households in Paris.
At a meeting late Tuesday, four unions including the CGT decided to continue their action, which has wreaked havoc on public transport in Paris and other cities, hobbled regional and international trains, and grounded planes on some strike days.
The unions urged their members to take "local actions" throughout the Christmas holidays, and vowed there would be no letup unless the reform plan is withdrawn.
Critics say the overhaul could force millions of people to work beyond the official retirement age of 62 -- one of the lowest in Europe -- by setting a "pivot age" of 64 for a full pension.
The government insists the new system will be fairer and more transparent, improving pensions for women and low earners in particular.
"My determination, and that of the government and the majority, is total," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament on the eve of Wednesday's talks.