French union calls for break in transport strikes over Christmas

Commuters wait to take a train at Gare du Nord train station during a strike by all unions of French SNCF workers and the Paris transport network (RATP), on Dec 14, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS) - France's CFDT union is opposed to transport strikes over the Christmas period but will call for new actions in January if the government does not drop a pension reform proposal that would encourage more years of work, its leader said on Sunday (Dec 15).

In a major overhaul of its pension scheme, the French government has proposed that people work two years longer to get a full pension, drawing a hostile response from trade unions who said they would step up strike action to force an about-face.

The reform-minded CFDT had stayed out of the strike, which has caused travel chaos across the country since Dec 5. But it said a "red line" had been crossed and called on members to join mass protests on Tuesday.

"Let's be clear: CFDT railway workers do not want a blockage during the holidays. Then in January... if the text has not changed, the CFDT will continue to mobilise," CFDT Secretary General Laurent Berger told Journal du Dimanche.

"We should not make users pay the bill. It would be unbearable if they could not spend this holiday season with their loved ones. We have to break the deadlock," he added.

In contrast, hardline CGT union warned last Thursday that there would be no break for Christmas unless the government dropped the whole pension reform plan.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told Le Parisien Dimanche he would meet unions next week, and asked everyone to take responsibility ahead of Christmas.

"I don't think the French would accept that some people could deprive them of this moment," he said.

Junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said on Saturday that the proposal to encourage people to work until 64 through a system of bonuses and discounts could still be negotiated.

French retailers and hoteliers have warned that their crucial Christmas season could be derailed if the transport strike drags on for much longer.

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