French travellers face train disruption as pension strikes go on

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Travellers at the Saint-Lazare railway station in Paris on Dec 21, 2019. Trade unions in France are pressing on with a transport strike over the festive holidays. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS) - Strikes disrupting services in France brought frustration for travellers thronging Paris stations at the start of the festive season, as rail workers protested over pension reform.

Two weeks of nationwide industrial action against President Emmanuel Macron's planned overhaul of the pension system have disrupted railways and roads, shut some schools and brought more than half a million people onto the streets.

After inconclusive talks with the government on Thursday (Dec 19), hardline unions called for stoppages to continue over the holiday period, while rail sections of more moderate unions also rejected calls for a Christmas truce.

National rail operator SNCF continued to run reduced services on Saturday, including half the usual number of its high-speed TGV trains, as passengers headed out of the French capital.

At Saint-Lazare station, one of the busiest in Paris, travellers scrutinised departure boards for service updates.

Mr Sylvain de Pierrepont and Ms Cathy Walters, en route to Normandy with their two children to visit family, stood waiting after their train was delayed.

"It's a bit stressful because we don't know if the train will be running or not," Mr de Pierrepont said.

As well as competing for limited seats on nationwide rail services, travellers also endured transport chaos in and around Paris with metro and suburban train services crippled by strikes.

Half of the capital's 16 metro lines were shut on Saturday.

At Saint-Lazare station, Ms Aurelie Lecerf said she expected her journey to Caen in Normandy from the Paris suburbs to take six hours, twice the usual journey time.

Unions oppose Mr Macron's plans to streamline France's state pension system, including by scrapping special regimes for sectors such as railways, and to push people to work until 64, beyond the legal retirement age of 62.

The moderate CFDT union has called for members to observe a pause in strikes during the holiday season, but its rail section voted to pursue stoppages.

The rail section of the UNSA union also called for a holiday truce, a move opposed by members in some regions.

Negotiations over the pension reform are due to resume in January, after which the government wants to bring its proposal before parliament and have legislation passed by next summer.

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