PARIS — France will be hit Thursday by fresh strike action and protests against Emmanuel Macron’s flagship pensions reform while the French leader is on a three-day visit to China.
A meeting between trade union representatives and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Wednesday failed to avert further protests against the government’s plans to raise the retirement age from to 64 from 62 and increase the number of years of contributions required to receive a full pension.
Union chiefs walked out of the meeting with Borne in less than an hour, saying the government was not ready to make concessions, and called for protests to continue.
“The prime minister replied that she wished to maintain her bill [pension reform]. A seriously bad decision. This reform is rejected by almost the entire population. It must be withdrawn,” major unions said in a joint statement after the meeting. “We will not come back to the negotiation table as if nothing had happened,” the statement adds.
Sophie Binet, the freshly appointed head of CGT trade union, told reporters that unions decided to leave the meeting as they considered it “useless.”
Speaking right after the meeting, Borne said that she insisted with unions on the “need” for a pensions reform and noted that “our disagreement on the raising of [retirement age] prevented us from discussing in-depth” other topics such as labor conditions. “I am not planning to move forward without [unions]” she promised.
Thursday will mark the 11th day of industrial action since unions started calling for rolling strikes at the beginning of the year. France’s trade unions continue to hold considerable sway over the street and have brought out upward of a million protesters in recent weeks.
Strikes will impact key sectors including public transport, school, hospitals and oil refineries. People are expected to take to the streets in all major cities, with demonstration in Paris set to kick off tomorrow afternoon. Protests in recent weeks turned violent in parts of the county but have started to ebb most recently, with fewer people heeding the call.
Opposition against the controversial reform increased after the government last month forced the measures through parliament, raising concerns that the protests could turn into a broader anti-government movement like the Yellow Jackets.
After the failed meeting with unions, far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon on Wednesday accused Borne of “transforming a social crisis into a political crisis because of her obstinacy.”
On April 14, France’s Constitutional Council will decide whether the pension reforms bill is in line with the constitution, especially when it comes to the adoption procedure. It will also weigh in on a request by opposition lawmakers to hold a referendum on the bill.