French PM, unions fail to break pension strike deadlock as Christmas looms
By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) - French unions said strikes that have crippled the transport system will continue over the Christmas holidays after talks with the government on Thursday failed to break the deadlock over a planned overhaul of the pension system.
Two weeks of nationwide industrial action in France have disrupted railways and roads, shut some schools and brought more than half a million people onto the streets to protest against President Emmanuel Macron's wide-ranging reform plan.
After a meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the leader of the hardline CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said unions had decided to hold more strikes and demonstrations on Jan. 9.
"The prime minister hasn't heard what the street is saying," Martinez told reporters.
Laurent Berger, leader of the more moderate CFDT, refrained from calling for demonstrations on Jan. 9 but said he still disagreed with the government's aim of encouraging people to work until age 64 before they draw a full pension.
Philippe told a news conference his government remains fully committed to restoring the financial balance of the pensions system and to ending special pension regimes under which some workers can retire up to a decade before others.
He said progress had been made with the unions and that he hoped any remaining disagreements could be overcome during new talks in January. Philippe hopes parliament can vote on the pension reform law by summer at the latest.
Philippe also reiterated a plea to unions to suspend transport strikes during the holidays.
"I call on unions to allow French people to travel to see their families over Christmas," he said.
But a statement from the CGT-led union coalition said there would be no return to work over the festive period, when millions of people rely on France's extensive network of high-speed trains to spend the holiday with their families.
UNSA, the second-biggest union at railway company SNCF, however called for a truce over Christmas, which could alleviate some transport misery.
Unions oppose Macron's plans to streamline France's state pension system and push people to work until 64, instead of the legal retirement age of 62.
(Reporting by Michel Rose, Sophie Louet and Caroline Pailliez; Writing by Matthieu Protard and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Richard Lough and Catherine Evans)