French labor unions held a third day of mass strikes and protests against raising the retirement age, keeping up pressure on the government as parliament debates the controversial reform.
Subway and commuter trains in Paris were severely disrupted on Tuesday, with limited service on most lines. Only around half of high-speed TGV trains were running across the country, according to rail operator SNCF. A dozen international Eurostar trips were also canceled.
Power company Electricite de France SA said close to one-third of workers were on strike, resulting in a 4.12 gigawatt reduction in output. Some 56% of employees at sites operated by oil company TotalEnergies SE were striking on the morning shift.
Unions say they plan to build on the momentum they saw in the first two rounds of strikes last month in an attempt to make President Emmanuel Macron back down on his proposal to raise the minimum retirement age to 64 from 62. A fourth day of protests is already planned for Saturday.
The extent of public discontent will be closely watched by lawmakers, who have started to review the draft pension reform bill in the National Assembly. The government has set a Feb. 17 limit for debate to conclude.
Opinion polls suggest opposition to the reform is growing, and unions are looking to rally even more support.
CGT leader Philippe Martinez said he expected a similar turnout on Tuesday to the first strike day on Jan. 19, according to Agence France-Presse, when the Interior Ministry said 1.1 million people took part and unions estimated the turnout at more than 2 million.
However, early signs showed that having multiple days off work was starting to take its toll on some. Figures from the Civil Service Ministry indicated that the portion of public sector employees of the central state joining in the third walk-out fell to 11.4%, compared with 28% three weeks ago.
Unions have said declining participation is to be expected as workers can’t afford to miss out on wages.
In a bid to win over more people, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper this weekend that the government was considering another carve-out so more workers can retire before they turn 64.
The concession would add to other provisions designed to allow those who began working at a young age to retire earlier. Whether this will help secure a majority remains to be seen.
If Macron cannot get enough backing in parliament, he could still use a constitutional provision, which allows a law to be adopted without a vote. That, however, would risk further stoking the anger of unions and could lead to a no-confidence vote.
What Bloomberg Economics Says:
“A wave of strikes and protests – alongside the drag from increases in food and energy prices and the tightening of credit conditions — suggests the start of 2023 will be noticeably tougher on the French economy.”
Widespread strikes are also testing the resilience of the French economy. Bloomberg Economics’ Maeva Cousin estimates it will underperform the euro area in the first quarter as the impact on the hospitality, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors likely cuts output by just over 0.1%.
While industrial action is adding to uncertainty around the outlook for growth, it isn’t driving it, Cousin wrote, given the greater significance of higher interest rates and the squeeze on household spending from high inflation.