Strike takes a heavy toll on French business

Strike takes a heavy toll on French business
Travelers stand in the hall of the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris. French unions have been planning for renewed strikes in January to resist a government initiative to raise the retirement age to 64. (AP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

Strike takes a heavy toll on French business

Strike takes a heavy toll on French business
  • Weeks of travel misery worsened on Sunday, when tens of thousands planned to meet up with family and friends for the Christmas break

PARIS: Holiday travelers across France scrambled for alternatives Sunday as an 18-day-old transport strike over pension reform saw train services slashed yet again.

President Emmanuel Macron issued an appeal on Saturday for a truce over the holidays but talks between the government and unions this week have failed to ease the standoff and labor leaders called for further mobilization.

Workers at the SNCF and RATP public rail companies have downed tools to protest at the government’s plan to forge a single points-based pension scheme out of 42 existing ones, which would see some public employees lose certain privileges.

As a result, weeks of travel misery worsened on Sunday, when tens of thousands planned to meet up with family and friends for the Christmas break.

Only half of high-speed TGV and a quarter of inter-city trains were running, and the SNCF urged voyagers to cancel or delay planned trips if possible.

In Paris, trains connecting the capital to its suburbs were down to a trickle, and only two out of 16 metro lines provided a service on the last shopping Sunday before Christmas.

Macron, on a visit to the Ivory Coast, urged striking workers to embrace a “spirit of responsibility” and for “collective good sense to triumph.”

“I believe there are moments in the life of a nation when it is also good to call a truce to respect families and the lives of families,” he said in Abidjan.

A poll by the IFOP agency published on Sunday showed public backing for the action dropping slightly by three percentage points, though 51 percent still expressed support or sympathy for the strikers.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995 when the government backed down on pension reform after three weeks of metro and rail stoppages just before Christmas.

The protest is taking a heavy toll on businesses, especially retailers, hotels and restaurants during one of the busiest periods of the year. Industry associations have reported turnover declines of 30 to 60 percent from a year earlier.