French govt studies ways to end strike before Christmas

Paris, Dec 15 : The French government is studying potential areas of discussion with trade unions in a bid to end a nationwide strike over pension reforms.

Strikes have once again left much of the country, especially its public transport networks, paralyzed, the Efe news reported.

Numerous government members scramble around the nation to explain their reasoning behind the pension reforms to citizens. The overhaul would change the current pension scheme in favour of a points-based system.

Government members are also calling for the strike on public transport to end in time for the Christmas holidays.

Agnès Pannier-Runacher, a secretary of state for the economy, said on Saturday said there were still several areas in the planned reform that could be negotiated, especially in the suggested retirement age, which the government proposes should be 64.

It is the change in retirement age that has most irked unions.

The government proposal would deduct payments from those who want to retire early and award those who keep working beyond that age.

Pannier-Runacher said that the age was “just a proposal and that the door was open”.

This could be a key area where the government can approach the unions, at least with the most reformist ones like the CFDT, which is mainly active in the private sector.

More complex will be finding a space for dialogue with other unions like the CGT, which is not satisfied with withdrawing the proposal but wants to get rid of an age limit altogether.

The CGT, which dominates the transport sector, is defending the unique benefits its workers have. The French government under President Emmanuel Macron views a change in the pension system as a way to even out the rules across all sectors.

Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe has already established a timetable of negotiations with the unions in the coming week but it seems unlikely he will make any progress before Tuesday, when protests are scheduled to take place across the nation once more.

That date appears to be a cut-off point should the government want to quell the strike in time for Christmas.

If the government yields the point on minimum retirement age, the reformist unions can open the door to accept the rest of the proposed pension changes and thus isolate the CGT.

Meanwhile, the country was embroiled in its ninth day of strikes. Public transport was almost deserted in large cities, especially the capital, Paris.

There were long lines in the stations where minimum staffing was on offer and more cars on the roads as usual.

The unions say the ball is in the government’s court.

/IANS

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