France enters crucial week of talks with unions on pensions

International

CORRECTING OBJECT NAME TO FRANCE STRIKES – Commuters exit the Paris subway during the 32nd day of transport strikes, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. With more than 30 straight days of walkouts, French rail strikes against government plans to reform France’s retirement system marked a new milestone, surpassing even the lengths of strikes in the 1980s. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

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PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to launch a crucial week of negotiations with labor unions amid nationwide protests and transport strikes against the government’s plans to overhaul the pension system.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France Inter radio that “a compromise has never been so close,” as talks between the prime minister and worker unions are to resume Tuesday. Macron was holding a Cabinet meeting Monday ahead of the talks.

The government is “not inflexible,” Le Maire said, suggesting there is room for negotiation including on the financing of the pension system.

Several unions called for nationwide protests on Thursday and Saturday. The hard-left union CGT union also called for workers to disrupt the country’s oil depots and refineries later this week.

The national rail company, SNCF, said train traffic was improving Monday across the country, with 8 out of 10 high-speed trains running.

Yet the Paris metro was still severely disrupted, with most of lines open only for a limited amount of time and several stations closed.

In his televised New Year’s address, Macron vowed to carry out the overhaul of the pension system but called on his government to find a “quick compromise” with unions.

Macron wants to unify France’s 42 different pension schemes, some of which grant early retirement, into a single one. Plans include raising the eligibility age for full pensions from 62 to 64, the most criticized measure.

Macron says the new system will be fairer and financially sustainable.

Unions fear it will make people work longer for lower pensions. Recent polls show a majority of French people still support the protest movement.

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