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French unions urge show of force as Macron’s pension overhaul nears finale

PARIS: Garbage piled up in Paris, liquefied natural gas operations were suspended and rail services cancelled on Wednesday (Mar 15), with trade unions urging a show of force as President Emmanuel Macron’s pension overhaul neared its finale in parliament.

A broad alliance of unions have called for an eighth day of street protests across France since mid-January to contest Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.

The pension reform bill passes to a joint parliamentary committee where lawmakers from the lower and upper chambers will on Wednesday seek a compromise text before a final vote in both the Senate and National Assembly on Thursday.

Macron’s camp faced a last-gasp scramble to secure enough votes in the assembly, where it lacks its own absolute majority and will rely on the conservative Les Republicains party for support, though its ranks are divided on the issue.

“In the National Assembly, there will not be an easy vote, nor will there be panic,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told Europe 1 radio station.

Macron and his government say changes to the pension system, one of the most generous among industrialised nations, are necessary to keep the pension budget in the black. At stake for the president are not just financial gains, however, but also his reformist credentials.

Ruling party officials acknowledged the numbers were tight.

If too tight for comfort, the government may resort to a procedure known as 49:3, which would allow it to push the text through parliament without a vote. That would risk anger on the streets but avoid a possible vote of no confidence in parliament were the vote to fail.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the assembly on Tuesday that she wanted a vote to take place, while the unions held their ground.

“This reform is unfair, brutal, and overwhelmingly rejected by public opinion,” Laurent Berger, head of the reform-minded CFDT union told BFM TV.

More than 6,000 tonnes of rubbish have built up in Paris as municipal waste collectors extended their walkout into a second week. France’s energy sector has also been hit hard.

Blockages at four liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals have been extended, Engie subsidiary Elengy and trade sources said.

Several LNG ships heading to France have changed course to other terminals in Britain, the Netherlands and Spain, since the strike action started and closure of the terminals for another week would significantly impact France’s ability to export gas to neighbouring countries.

TotalEnergies said deliveries from its oil refineries and fuel depots remained blocked. Esso’s Fos refinery was also unable to move products out.

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