France: Air traffic controllers join pension reform protest

World Sunday 12/February/2023 14:44 PM
By: DW
France: Air traffic controllers join pension reform protest

Paris: Hundreds of thousands of French protesters marched nationwide on Saturday, decrying plans to reform the pension system and push back retirement age by two years. Protests took place in Paris, as well as other cities such as Nice, Marseille, Toulouse and Nantes.

In addition, air traffic controllers at Paris's second largest airport, Orly, walked off their jobs in solidarity. The strike caused the cancellation of up to half the flights scheduled to take off on Saturday.

Protesters included many young people, including students who said they hadn't been able to join previous demonstrations due to their studies. Many of them held banners with slogans about their parents being affected by the planned reforms.

"I don't want my parents to die at work,'' one banner held by a teenage boy read.

Why are French people protesting?
Protests against the pension reform plans have recently intensified, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron gears up for inking the plans.

Reforming the country's pension system was on Macron's platform both during the 2017 and 2022 elections.

The president and his administration argue that the reforms are "indispensable" for the pension system's survival. He says the pension fund is experiencing a looming deficit that must be dealt with, as France's population gets older.

Macron argues that the population would have to work a little more to keep the pension fund in balance. To achieve this, the new system raises the retirement age from 62 to 64.

However, critics insist the government must find alternative ways to finance the pension fund. They also argue that increasing the years of work in some strenuous, manual labor professions would not be physically possible.

How far along is the reform plan?
Despite nationwide resistance, Macron is set on delivering his campaign promise and reforming the retirement system.

Earlier this week, lawmakers began debating the new pension bill in parliament, where Macron's centrist party lost its absolute majority last year. They now have to rely on the opposition conservative Republicans to pass the bill.

However, the bill faces reservations from many members of parliament, including from Macron's own faction, who fear it might instigate crippling strikes.

Labour unions and left-wing lawmakers are working hard to block the bill.

In a joint statement on Saturday, unions condemned the government as "deaf," urging for the bill to be scrapped. They threatened to conduct a nationwide strike on March 7 that could "bring France to a standstill" should their demands go unanswered.

Saturday's protest was the fourth large-scale demonstration against the pension reform this year.