Macron pension reform: Paris paralysed by massive strike

woman scooting during strikeImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Some workers took to electric scooters to beat the strike

Paris is seeing huge jams and massive crowds on the few metro lines running as transport workers strike against a planned pension reform.

Ten of 16 lines were shut and service on the others was severely disrupted.

Many workers cycled, walked or stayed at home, while free rides were on offer on transport operator RATP's e-moped and Uber's e-bike and scooter networks.

The strike, the biggest since 2007, is the first big act against President Macron's plan for a universal pension.

It would replace dozens of different pension schemes for different professions.

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Members of other professions including lawyers, airline staff and medical workers have called for more strikes starting on Monday.

What is the situation in Paris?

There were 235km (145 miles) of traffic jams in the Paris region, officials said, more than double normal levels.

Local media showed photos of crammed platforms on four metro lines, where some trains were running.

Skip Twitter post by @le_Parisien

#greveratp Pourquoi le service minimum ne sera pas assuré ce vendredi

— Le Parisien (@le_Parisien) September 12, 2019


End of Twitter post by @le_Parisien

Le Parisien newspaper said a legal requirement to maintain a minimum level of service – in place following a big strike in 2007, which was also against a pension overhaul – was not being fulfilled.

Three of the city's five regional rail lines, run by national rail operator SNCF, were running as normal but the two other lines were offering a reduced rush hour service and no trains at all during the rest of the day.

Travellers reported a surge in prices on Uber's ride-hailing service, with one journalist posting a screenshot showing a ride across the city costing €100 (£90), about three times the usual fare.

Skip Twitter post by @RemyBuisine

Le cap impressionnant des 100 euros franchi pour une course en VTC de l’Est vers l’Ouest Parisien.
Majoration de 3 fois par rapport au prix habituel… #GreveRATP #Paris

— Remy Buisine (@RemyBuisine) September 13, 2019


End of Twitter post by @RemyBuisine

However Uber was also offering two free 15-minute rides on its Jump electric bikes and scooters in the city. RATP meanwhile was offering free 30-minute rides on the Cityscoot network of electric mopeds.

Paris has about 20,000 electric scooters available for hire.

Why is the pension reform controversial?

RATP's three main unions have called the strike a "shot across the bow" for Mr Macron's reform plans.

Metro workers say the new universal pension would force them to work longer by taking away their right to retire early, negotiated decades ago to compensate for having to work long hours underground.

On average, Metro workers retire at 55 while most French workers retire at 63.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The busy République metro station was closed

The move to a universal points-based pension system would also remove the most advantageous pensions for a range of jobs ranging from sailors to notaries and including Paris opera workers.

Meanwhile those retiring before 64 would receive a lower pension. For example someone retiring at 63 would receive five percent less.

On Thursday French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted the reforms would be fair for everyone.

"We're going to construct a truly universal system where every euro paid in will provide the same rights for everyone, whether a labourer, a shop owner, a researcher, a farmer, a civil servant, a doctor or an entrepreneur," he said.

The French government wants parliament to vote on the plans early next year.

Last year lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favour of overhauling rail operator SNCF, which saw employees lose generous job and pension guarantees. That followed months of rolling strikes by SNCF workers.

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