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Commuters hit as trains stay halted amid French strike

Commuters hit as trains stay halted amid French strike

PARIS • Frustrated travellers ran into transportation chaos around France for a second day yesterday, as unions dug in for what they hoped was a protracted strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to redesign the national retirement system.

Most French trains were at a halt, including Paris subways, and traffic jams multiplied around the country.

The Chateau of Versailles remained shut for a second day because of the nationwide strike, and the Louvre Museum warned visitors to expect delays and some closed galleries.

The Eiffel Tower reopened yesterday after an all-day closure on Thursday, but tourists from around the world remained challenged by strike-related disruptions.

“I checked Eurostar for rough timings and got the Eurorail pass but the latest I was told was that they were not issuing tickets until Dec 10,” said Ms Clarice Tan from Singapore, who was planning to stop by the French capital while on holiday in Britain later this month.

“There’s a jazz festival in Paris I wanted to see and I was going to meet a friend who’s flying in to perform so it would be disappointing to miss that. At the moment, I’m still planning to go,” said the 24-year-old research assistant.

Chan Brothers Travel told The Straits Times that none of its groups travelling in, or to, Europe currently has been affected by the protests in Paris. The travel agency has also not received calls expressing concern or cancellation requests.

Emboldened by the biggest outpouring of public anger in years, unions yesterday called for a new day of mass protests and strikes next Tuesday, their next step over a reform that they see as an attack on hard-won workers‘ rights.

At least 800,000 people marched nationwide on Thursday, as strikes shuttered schools and some public services and disrupted hospitals and refineries. Police fired repeated volleys of tear gas and protesters set fires in Paris, but most demonstrators were peaceful.

French strike against Macron reforms enters day two

Mr Macron is determined to push through the changes to France‘s convoluted and relatively generous retirement system, seeing them as central to his plans to transform the French economy. His idea is to unify France‘s 42 different pension schemes into a single one, giving all workers the same general rights.

Opponents fear the changes to how and when workers can retire will threaten the hard-fought French way of life, and worry that the plan will push them to work longer and for less retirement pay.

Mr Macron’s government has been negotiating with unions and others for months about the plan but will not release details of the changes until next week. The government says it will not change the official retirement age of 62, but the plan is expected to encourage people to work longer.

The uncertainty about what the plan will entail is feeding public worry. Polls suggest most French people support the strike and protest movement, at least for now, in hopes that this pushes the government to pay more heed to workers‘ worries.

Commuters and parents struggling to get to work and school yesterday had mixed feelings about the strikes and the reform. “I understand striking is a constitutional right, but there should at least be a partial (subway) service,” said Ms Mira Ghaleni as she tried to get her son to school in eastern Paris.

Mr Luke Lim, 26, a Singaporean venture capital investor working in Paris, thinks some people can deal with the protests for one or two days by working from home. “However, there has been no firm statement that the protest will end today, and if the protest extends beyond that, it will be a huge inconvenience for sure,” he said yesterday.

• Additional reporting by Jean Iau