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French people defy again Macron's pension reform in fresh protests

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-01-17 10:07

A French SNCF railway worker on strike attends a demonstration in Paris during the 36th consecutive day of strike against French government's pensions reform plans in France, January 9, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

PARIS -- French labor unions angry at President Emmanuel Macron's plan to overhaul pension reform kept train and metro traffic disrupted and closed numerous roads across the country on Thursday in a fresh massive demonstration.

In a sixth round of nationwide protests, 187,000 demonstrators flooded the streets once again, and joined the protests nationwide, including 23,000 in Paris, according to the Interior Ministry.

"It's never too late to force a government to cave in," said Philippe Martinez, head of the far-left CGT union who headed Paris rally.

In one of his major campaign promises, Macron proposes to merge the variety of 42 different pension set-ups for different professions into a universal system.

The new single regime would use points so that each euro paid in would give the same retirement benefits no matter what sector pensioners worked in.

The government argued the reform is needed to bring costly pension system, which is almost entirely borne by the state, into balance.

Critics say that would effectively force people to work longer, in particular public sector workers that have been allowed to retire earlier often because of hard working conditions.

"We won't give up..." said, Yves Veyrier, head of FO union. "Let's put this bill definitely aside, drop it and get back to the negotiating table," he was quoted as saying by local media.

Stoppages at national railway SNCF and Paris metro RATP entered their 43rd day on Thursday, making it the country's longest transport strike since 1968.

Unions vowed to maintain their open-ended industrial action despite of dwindling turnout. On Thursday, only 10 percent of workers at the state-run SNCF company stopped working, compared with more than half when the strikes began on Dec. 5 2019.

The sign of fatigue appeared after the government offered concession to temporally remove the most contested measure of "pivotal age" which encourages workers to extend their careers by two years to 64 to have full pension.

As unions' anger endures, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the strikes were "dead end" as "the government's determination to set up this universal pension system and therefore to eventually remove the special schemes is total."

"The transport strike against pension reform will go nowhere, the government is determined," Philippe said on Wednesday.

Widely seen as a taboo, pension overhaul had failed during the previous governments.

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