French pension talks end in 'failure' ahead of new protests
Union chiefs call on French people to take to the streets and strike en masse on Thursday during an 11th day of nationwide action against the bill.
Last-ditch discussions between French trade unions and the country’s Prime Minister have failed to reach a "democratic" outcome, the unions said on Wednesday.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s pension reform bill that raised the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 has angered workers across France and prompted them to take to the streets.
Union representatives attempted to convince Borne to repeal the decision that she took on March 16. However, the premier insisted on the implementation of the decision and refused to discuss the matter.
Both parties have refused to settle on a middle ground as the trade unions previously threatened that they would storm out of the meeting if Borne did not discuss revoking her decision.
Cyril Chabanier, who spoke on behalf of the eight trade unions, said, "It’s clearly a failure when the Prime Minister would not even entertain that discussion."
This is the first time that both sides meet since the controversial decision came out in January.
#France is undergoing turmoil as demonstrations and strikes erupt across the country over the government's proposed #PensionReform law, which has been met with strong opposition and led to the shuttering of services, blocked roads, and widespread #protests amidst a heavy security… pic.twitter.com/OIdii8yRua— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) March 24, 2023
"We again told the prime minister that the only democratic outcome could be the text's withdrawal. The prime minister replied that she wished to maintain the text, a grave decision," he added.
Union chiefs called for French people to take to the streets and strike en masse on Thursday during an 11th day of nationwide action against the bill.
Sophie Binet, leader of the CGT trade union, called for further protests and strikes, saying, "We have to continue mobilizing until the end until the government understands there is no way out other than withdrawing this reform."
"We can't move on to anything else until this reform is repealed."
Nearly a thousand protesters have been detained in #France in light of overwhelming demonstrations that have been erupting all across the country since late January due to the government's controversial pension reform which was passed without a vote from #Parliament on March 16. pic.twitter.com/AO1lEzas3n— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) March 22, 2023
Thursday's protest comes ahead of the country's Constitutional Council giving its final say on the pension changes on April 14, the last step before they are signed into law.
"We are experiencing a grave democratic crisis," said Laurent Berger, head of the centrist CFDT union.
"We call on the wisdom of the constitutional council... Our democracy needs appeasement, and this appeasement would be for the text not to be applied," he said.
Macron is on a visit to China for the rest of the week, where an aide denied there was a "democratic crisis" in France despite the failure of the meeting.
"You can't speak of a democratic crisis when the bill has been enacted, explained to the public and the government is taking responsibility for it," said the aide, asking not to be named.
The government has argued that the changes are necessary to prevent the pensions system from plunging into deficit.
Critics say the pensions reform is unfair to workers in tough jobs who start their careers early, as well as women who interrupt their work life to raise children.
Protests since January have largely been peaceful, but spontaneous rallies since March 16 have sparked clashes between protesters and police.
Rights groups have accused the police of disproportionate use of force in handling the unrest, but the Interior Minister has claimed that security forces were responding to "far-left" radicals.
A record of more than 1.2 million people marched against the reform nationwide on March 7, according to official figures.