France travel CHAOS: French strikes to grind country to a halt as Macron faces backlash.

Macron
Macron is facing uge travel chaos across the country on Thursday

The government says the state-funded retirement system is too costly and complicated and wants to merge the country’s 42 different schemes into a single points-based system. The SNCF expects 90 percent of regional trains, as well as those on suburban lines in the Paris region, to be cancelled during the strike, spokeswoman Agnés Ogier said on Tuesday. She said: “We clearly invite our clients to cancel or delay their travel plans.” The rail company added that international services would also be “severely disrupted”.

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Sixteen Eurostar trains linking up Paris and London on Thursday have already been cancelled.

Paris commuters will also face travel mayhem. The Paris metro is bracing for paralysis as 11 of the city’s 16 lines shut down on Thursday, with only two lines running as usual.

Workers for the SNCF and the Paris public transport company RATP reject the reform because the changes could take away their so-called “special pension regimes,” which allows them to retire almost a decade earlier than most French workers.

The strike will also disrupt domestic flights, the French Civil Aviation Authority said on Tuesday: 20 percent of domestic flights are likely to be cancelled.

French rail strikes
French rail strikes

The British budget airline EasyJet is to cancel up to 233 domestic and medium-haul flights ahead of the strike action in France, according to AFP.

The travel chaos could last several days, even weeks, as hardline unions have already asked workers to stage rolling strikes in a bid to force the government to backtrack on its pension plans.

Mr Macron, 41, says the current pension system is too costly and complex, with 42 different schemes for various professions.

He wants to replace that with a single, points-based scheme he says will be “fairer” and help plug a chronic deficit.

His government has promised the legal retirement age of 62 won’t change, but that new financial incentives may encourage some people to work longer.

But the government’s determination to scrap special pension regimes is shaping up to be the main point of contention.

Some people, like rail and metro workers and air crews, are allowed to retire in their early to mid-fifties. Others, like doctors and lawyers, pay less tax.

Unions, for their part, argue that the proposed changes will force people to work for longer and for less.

Following a meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe last week, Philippe Martinez, leader of the hard-left CGT union, said: “The flagrant provocation is implying that this reform will affect only the special regimes.

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“It’s a shameful lie. Everyone knows that the reform will affect the public as well as the private sector.”

Police unions, rubbish collectors, teachers, hospital workers, air-traffic controllers and Air France staff have also pledged to join Thursday’s strike action.

But a majority of French people are in favour of the strike, two polls published on Wednesday found.

A poll by Elabe for the news channel BFMTV found that 58 percent of French people back the strike, compared with 30 percent who don’t.

A separate survey by Harris Interactive for RTL radio and AEF Info showed that 69 percent of the French are in favour of the strike action, compared with 24 percent who aren’t.

Pension reforms by former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 and Jacques Chirac in 1995 sparked mass street protests and failed to close stubborn deficits, which Mr Macron wants to wipe out by 2025.

The pension bill is to be debated by lawmakers next summer. The centrist government has said the changes will only affect people born after 1963 and enter progressively into force between 2025 and 2040.

The Elabe poll of 1,005 people was conducted online between December 2-3; while the Harris Interactive poll of 982 people was conducted online on December 3.

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