Tensions mount over French transport strike

The French capital Paris and its environs remained the worst hit by the strikes, with only the two driverless Metro lines in the capital in operation. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 December 2019

Tensions mount over French transport strike

  • Strike organizers announce a massive protest for Tuesday when tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets again
  • Unions are opposed to proposed reforms that would do away with the 42 separate pension systems

PARIS: Tensions between the French government and unions opposed to pension reforms mounted Sunday as a crippling transport strike entered its 11th day.
The overhaul, unveiled this week by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, would do away with the 42 separate pension systems — some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.
Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called “pivot age” of 64.
Strike organizers have announced a massive protest for Tuesday when tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets again.
Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reform after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.
The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travelers worried that their holiday plans will fall through.
Philippe told the Parisien daily in an interview for its Sunday edition that the French would not accept being “deprived” of festive transport options.
“I can well see that everyone is worried as they see Christmas near. Christmas is an important time,” he said.
On Friday, he asked SNCF chief Jean-Pierre Farandou to draw up a list of exactly which trains would be running during the festive season.
But the unions have said they will not give in — and that the government would have to.
“If the government wants the conflict to end before the holidays, they have all of next week to take the wise decision and scrap the point-based pension plan,” Laurent Blum, the general secretary of the hard-line CGT-Cheminots, the main SNCF union, said.
France’s moderate CFDT union joined the action after the government’s announcement that those who retire before the “pivot age” of 64 would not receive a full pension.
“It’s very simple: for the CFDT to take another look at this bill, the government must agree to withdraw the pivot age. One point, that’s all,” CFDT leader Laurent Berger told Le Journal du Dimanche.
“It is deeply unfair to ask those who were born in 1960 and who are due to retire in 2022 to work longer,” he added.
If the government does not give ground, the CFDT will also call for industrial action in January, after Tuesday’s strike, said Berger, who is not opposed to reform of the current pension system.
Berger said CFDT railway workers did not want a strike over the holiday season.
“I don’t wish to block transport for Christmas. We should not make users pay the bill ... We have to break this deadlock,” he said.
The prime minister has held talks with union leaders and more negotiations are scheduled over the coming week.
Philippe on Friday struck a combative note, saying he “has absolutely no fear of implementing this reform.”
The architect of the overhaul, pensions commissioner Jean-Paul Delevoye, has been hit by suspicions of conflicts of interest after several omissions in his declaration of interests, which he has since amended.
Under the French constitution, members of the government are prohibited from carrying out “any professional activity” in addition to their official functions.
The prime minister however stressed Saturday that he had faith in Delevoye and dismissed talk of his resignation.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension-system deficits forecast to reach as much as €17 billion ($19 billion) by 2025.
The average French person retires at just over 60 — years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Train traffic was expected to be severely disrupted Sunday with only one out four TGV high speed long-distance trains and a third of regional trains running across the country, operator SNCF said.
But Paris and its environs remained the worst hit. Only the two driverless Metro lines in the capital were going to be in operation and there were skeletal transport services between the city and its suburbs.


Interpol warns of ‘alarming’ cybercrime rate during pandemic

Updated 04 August 2020

Interpol warns of ‘alarming’ cybercrime rate during pandemic

  • Cybercriminals are increasingly using disruptive malware against critical infrastructure and health care institutions
  • There was also an increase in the spread of fake news and misinformation which sometimes itself conceals malware

LYON: Global police body Interpol warned Monday of an “alarming” rate of cybercrime during the coronavirus pandemic, with criminals taking advantage of people working from home to target major institutions.
An assessment by the Lyon-based organization found a “significant target shift” by criminals from individuals and small businesses to major corporations, governments and critical infrastructure.
“Cybercriminals are developing and boosting their attacks at an alarming pace, exploiting the fear and uncertainty caused by the unstable social and economic situation created by COVID-19,” said Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock.
“The increased online dependency for people around the world is also creating new opportunities, with many businesses and individuals not ensuring their cyberdefenses are up to date,” he added.
The report said cybercriminals were sending COVID-19 themed phishing emails — which seek to obtain confidential data from users — often impersonating government and health authorities.
Cybercriminals are increasingly using disruptive malware against critical infrastructure and health care institutions, it added.
In the first two weeks of April 2020, there was a rise in ramsomware attacks, in which users have to pay money to get their computer to work again.
There was also an increase in the spread of fake news and misinformation which sometimes itself conceals malware, said Interpol.
From January to April, some 907,000 spam messages, 737 incidents related to malware and 48,000 malicious URLs — all related to COVID-19 were detected by one of Interpol’s private sector partners, it said.
The agency warned the trend was set to continue and a “further increase in cybercrime is highly likely in the near future.”
“Vulnerabilities related to working from home and the potential for increased financial benefit will see cybercriminals continue to ramp up their activities and develop more advanced and sophisticated” methods, it said.
Once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, Interpol said, “it is highly probable that there will be another spike in phishing related to these medical products as well as network intrusion and cyberattacks to steal data.”