Strikers march during a demonstration Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others joined a nationwide day of protests and strikes Thursday to denounce French President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul the pension system. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Nationwide protest in France over pensions as talks continue

January 09, 2020 - 9:31 am

PARIS (AP) — Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others joined a nationwide day of protests and strikes Thursday to denounce French President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul the pension system.

As the government and unions pushed on with crucial negotiations about the changes, street protests were staged in Paris and other French cities, with railway strikes entering their sixth week.

The Paris march started from the Republique square in central Paris amid a large police presence. The Elysee presidential palace was barricaded as protesters were due to head toward the area.

The Eiffel Tower was shut as employees joined the protest movement. Paris metro traffic was severely disrupted, except for two automatic lines running normally.

The national rail company, SNCF, said about one third of workers were on strike Thursday. Three high-speed trains out of five were running. Regional trains were also affected and many schools were closed.

Unions have also called on workers to block road access to major ports, including in the southern city of Marseille.

Philippe Martinez, head of hard-left CGT union, said "there are many people on strike” yet the government doesn't appear “willing to discuss and take into account the opinion of unions.”

Talks between the government and labor unions resumed Tuesday but no compromise has been reached yet. A new round of negotiations focusing on the financing of the new pension system is scheduled for Friday. Macron has asked his government to find a quick compromise with reform-minded unions.

So far, the government is sticking to its plan to raise the full retirement age from 62 to 64, the most criticized part of the proposals.

The changes aim to unify France’s 42 different pension schemes into a single one. Under specific pension schemes, some people, like railway worker, are allowed to take early retirement. Others, like lawyers and doctors, pay less tax.

Unions fear people will have to work longer for lower pensions, and polls suggest at least half of French people still support the strikes.

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