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France - Pensions

Unions reject PM's move to push through pension reform without vote

Demonstrators outside the French National Assembly protesting the government's decision to invoke the constitution's Article 49.3 to bypass parliament and pass the contested pension reform bill, 29 February 2020.
Demonstrators outside the French National Assembly protesting the government's decision to invoke the constitution's Article 49.3 to bypass parliament and pass the contested pension reform bill, 29 February 2020. Francois Guillot/AFP
3 min

Whether for or against the pension reform under debate in parliament, French unions have all reacted in shock and dismay to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's decision to push the bill through without a vote, after opposition MPs introduced tens of thousands of amendments to slow down the process.

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Edouard Philippe said Saturday that the government would use Article 49-3 in the French constitution to bypass parliament and approve the law without a vote, after opposition lawmakers introduced some 40,000 amendments, making it impossible to properly debate the legislation.

That trade unions called the move unjust, scandalous and incomprehensible.

The head of the CFDT, Laurent Berger, said the decision went against “social justice”. The moderate union has not been against the reform, which the government says will simplify pensions in France and make them fairer across the board, but had asked for changes to the bill.

The union had called for a recognition of difficult jobs, to allow people to retire earlier. Pushing through the law without debate and no modifications means the government will not deliver on its promise to take changes into account, according to the CFDT.

For the hardline CGT union, which has consistently called for the reform to be dropped entirely, the decision to use Article 49-3 is “profoundly scandalous”, according to its head, Philippe Martinez.

The move is “typical” of this government, which forces when it cannot convince, he said. 

The head of the far-left Force Ouvriere union, Yves Veyrier, tweeted that the government’s decision is “incomprehensible and unacceptable” in the current context of a country needing national solidarity, in the face of a growing threat from the coronavirus.

New demonstrations

Martinez said that the CGT, FO and other unions against the pension reform, will meet Monday to organise a new national day of protest as early as next week. The unions had planned a day of mobilisation for 31 March, but Philippe’s announcement has raised the urgency to move it earlier.

Unions organised ten general strike days between 5 December and 20 February, to accompany a historical transport strike against the pension reform.

Already on Saturday night, a few hundred people gathered near the National Assembly in Paris to voice their opposition to the government’s decision to resort to Article 49-3.

And the headquarters of Edouard Philippe’s campaign for mayor of Le Havre in local elections later this month were painted with slogans overnight, by demonstrators angry at the decision.

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