Monday, 20 March, 2023

Macron turns down union call for pension meeting

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron has turned down a call by unions to meet for a second time this week, in a show of defiance as more protests against his pension reform loom Saturday, reports AFP.

In a letter dated Thursday, Macron told the unions that the debate had now moved to parliament where all points of view were under discussion.

As the guarantor of our institutions, it is my duty to protect the parliamentary period that is currently under way, he said in the letter.

The unions have succeeded in mobilising large numbers for their regular protests but warnings of bringing France to a complete standstill through crippling rolling strikes have yet to come to a fruition.

The legislation is gradually making its way through parliament with the support of opposition traditional right-wing forces, leaving Macron and his government with some confidence they can ride out the storm.

Unions on Tuesday demanded an urgent meeting with Macron to get him to withdraw the reform plan, to no avail, and reiterated their call on Thursday, saying that the president's silence is a serious problem for democracy.

Macron told the unions he understood the anguish of the many French people worried they may never get a pension.

But he said the government had already made concessions, such as raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 years, instead of the 65 initially planned.

Unions across the board have demanded that the government drop its plan to hike the retirement age altogether.

An official in Macron's office told AFP that the government will be open to anything so long as there is a willingness for dialogue and compromise.

Unions have vowed to keep up the pressure on the government, with another day of mass protests planned for Saturday, and some have even said they would keep up rolling indefinite strikes.

On Tuesday, more than a million people marched across France and strikes disrupted transport and schools.

Some two in three people are against the pensions reform, but around the same number believe it will be implemented, according to a poll by the Elabe survey group published on Monday. The reform is now being debated in the upper-house Senate, with a vote by both houses of parliament expected by March 26 at the latest.