Paris commuters hit as metro workers strike over pension reform

Ten of Paris’ 16 metro lines were shut down completely, while service on most others was ‘extremely disrupted,’ the city’s transit operator said. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2019

Paris commuters hit as metro workers strike over pension reform

  • Ten of the city’s 16 metro lines were shut down completely, while service on most others was ‘extremely disrupted’
  • Massive crowds waited on the platforms of the few lines still working

PARIS: Paris metro and other public transport workers walked off the job Friday over a planned pension overhaul, sparking huge traffic jams and forcing many people to stay home for the one-day strike action.
Ten of the city’s 16 metro lines were shut down completely, while service on most others was “extremely disrupted,” the RATP transit operator said.
Massive crowds waited on the platforms of the few lines still working and officials counted some 200 kilometers (125 miles) of traffic backups during the morning rush hour, double normal levels.
The city’s burgeoning cycle lane system was seeing a surge in traffic as people pulled out bikes to get to work.
Two of the three main suburban lines traversing the city were also severely disrupted, as were most bus and tram services.
Die Sokhanadu, 25, was stuck at a station on line 12, trying to get to his job working on the restoration of the Notre-Dame cathedral in the heart of the city.
“If the metro doesn’t start running, I’m going to have to head home,” he said.
Others worried about their evening commutes, with the RATP warning that only lines 1 and 14 — the only two which function autonomously, without drivers — would be operating after 8:00 p.m. (1800 GMT).
The RATP warned Thursday that commuters should try to find travel alternatives and said it was financing free 30-minute rides on the Cityscoot network of electric mopeds.
US ride-hailing giant Uber is also hoping to seize the moment with two free 15-minute rides offered on the Jump electric bikes and scooters it has deployed in Paris.
The strike is the first major action against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to implement a “universal” pension system that would do away with dozens of separate schemes for different professions.
Metro workers and other critics say it would force them to work longer by removing their long-held rights to early retirement, secured decades ago to compensate for arduous work often involving long hours underground.
France’s state auditor, the Cour des Comptes, says the average retirement age for RATP workers in 2017 was 55.7, compared with 63 years for most French workers.
The three main RATP labor unions have called the strike “a shot across the bow” against the overhaul, the latest element in Macron’s push to bolster France’s economy and finances with a wide-ranging reform plan.
It is shaping up to be the biggest metro strike since 2007, when former president Nicolas Sarkozy pushed through a pension reform that delayed the retirement age for most public workers.
During his 2017 presidential campaign, Macron pledged not to touch the current earliest legal retirement age of 62 for most workers.
But Jean-Paul Delevoye, who is leading the reform project, has suggested a points system that would effectively wipe out the more advantageous pensions for a wide range of professions, including those for sailors, notaries and even Paris Opera workers.
More controversially, Delevoye has also proposed making a full pension available only from 64 — people who retire earlier would have to accept a lower pension: five percent less for someone who stops working at 63, for example.
“We’re going to construct a truly universal system where every euro paid in will provide the same rights for everyone, whether a laborer, a shop owner, a researcher, a farmer, a civil servant, a doctor or an entrepreneur,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a speech Thursday.
Consultations are currently being held with labor unions and the government wants parliament to vote on the project early next year.
The government is likely to face further opposition to its plans in coming weeks, with lawyers, airline pilots and stewards, and medical workers already calling a strike for Monday.


Five dead from strong quake in southern Philippines

Updated 17 October 2019

Five dead from strong quake in southern Philippines

  • More than 200 aftershocks from the 6.3 magnitude tremor have also been recorded
  • Another 5.3 magnitude quake rocked Davao Oriental around 4:53 a.m. on Thursday  

MANILA: Five people were reported killed and dozens injured after a strong 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck southern Philippines Wednesday evening, sending people scurrying out of their residences, buildings and shopping malls.

Information released by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) showed the shallow quake of tectonic origin occurred 7:37 p.m. 22 km southeast of Tulunan town in North Cotabato.

It was felt at intensity 7, described as destructive under the Phivolcs Earthquake Intensity Scale (PEIS), in Kidapawan City, and in Tulunan and M’Lang towns, North Cotabato.

Intensity 6 was reported in Digos City, Davao Del Sur; Sto. Niño, South Cotabato; and Tacurong City.

President Duterte’s home city of Davao experienced intensity 5, as well as, in Alabel and Malungon, Sarangani; Lake Sebu, Palomok, Tampakan and Tupi in South Cotabato; Koronadal City; Roxas and Pikit in North Cotabato; General Santos (GenSan) City; and Kalamansig, Lebak and Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.

Intensity 4 was felt in Sarangani, Agusan Del Sur, Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Cotabato City, and Maguindanao; intensity 3 in Iligan City and Dipolog City; intensity 2 in Butuan City and Zamboanga City; and intensity 1 in Hinatuan, Surigao Del Sur.

Reports showed the fatalities, three of them children, were from Datu Paglas in Maguindanao, M’lang in Cotabato, and Magsaysay town in Davao del Sur.

The victim from Datu Paglas was a young girl who died due to injuries sustained when the wall of their house collapsed and hit her. In M’lang town, Cotabato, a man succumbed to heart attack, while a two-year-old boy, who was then sleeping, was killed after a block of cement from a fallen wall hit him.

At a far-flung village also in Magsaysay town, a mother and her nine-month old son were killed after an earthquake-induced landslide buried their house.

The mother was reported to be still cuddling her infant when their bodies were retrieved. Rescuers managed to save the father and the couple’s two other children.

While authorities continue to assess structural damage caused by the earthquake, reports placed the number of injured at around 60, many of them hit by falling objects and debris.

Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista said over the radio it felt like a steamroller was passing by when the quake struck. He described the shake as very strong.

Evangelista said he has ordered the forced evacuation of residents at a village situated at the foot of Mount Apo following reports of landslides and rockslides.

Patients in hospitals in some of the affected areas were also evacuated, while some residents, still shocked and traumatized by the strong quake, have chosen to temporarily stay by the roadside outside their homes.

Schools have been shut in the damaged areas, which are being seen unsafe for use. Many houses and government buildings were also severely damaged by the strong quake.

In General Santos City, firefighters continue to battle the fire that hit the Gaisano Mall after the earthquake struck. 70 to 80 percent of the mall have already been gutted by the fire, according to the Bureau of Fire Protections.

Some 2,000 employees of the Gaisano mall now fear losing their jobs due to the blaze, according to reports.

Meanwhile, another earthquake with 5.3 magnitude rocked Davao Oriental around 4:53 a.m. Thursday. No damages or casualties have been reported so far, but aftershocks are expected.

More than 200 aftershocks from the 6.3 magnitude tremor have also been recorded.

In the wake of the strong earthquake, the country’s chief state seismologist Renato Solidum said this should serve as a “wake up call” to local government units that do not take earthquake drills seriously.

These drills, he said, are intended to orient local government what to do when a big earthquake occurs.

Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, as it is located along a typhoon belt and the Pacific “Ring of Fire.”