French unions block ports in bid to pressurize Macron on pension reform

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French trade unions blocked ports and disrupted power production on Thursday, searching for a way to force President Emmanuel Macron to ditch a planned pension overhaul as the impact of transport strikes weakens.

Ferry services to Britain suffered delays and at least 20 bulk carriers waiting to export cereals were kept at anchor outside France’s major ports, data from financial data provider Refinitiv showed. Electricity output was down about 9 percent of available capacity.

The public sector strikes are now in their 43rd day but the industrial action has lost momentum since Macron’s government made a concession over the age of retirement and as strikers face mounting financial pressure to return to work.

Only 10 percent of workers at the state-run SNCF railways walked out on Thursday, compared with more than half when the strikes began on December 5.

Data collated by Reuters from public transport agencies show the number of SNCF and Paris metro trains operating has risen and strike observance has fallen.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has offered to withdraw plans to raise the retirement age for full pension benefits by two years to 64 if the pension budget can be balanced another way, driving a wedge between unions determined to see the reform scrapped and those more open to reform.

“It’s never too late to force a government to cave in,” said Philippe Martinez, head of the far-left CGT union, before a street march in Paris in a sixth round of nationwide protests.

Macron, a former investment banker, wants to streamline France’s convoluted pension system and give French people an incentive to stay in work longer to pay for some of the most generous retirement benefits in the industrialized world.

It would be the biggest overhaul of the system since World War Two and is central to the president’s drive to make the French labor force more flexible and more competitive globally.

Trade unions accuse Macron of eroding hard-earned benefits.

The CGT this week set its sights on French ports as participation rates in strikes on Paris public transport services declined.

On Thursday, vessels set to export a total 536,000 tons of cereals, mostly wheat, were held up outside French ports, data showed.

The three-day walkout by dockers which began on Tuesday has already led to production outages at some livestock feed factories. Imported soybean meal is used to provide protein in livestock feed rations, alongside cereals that offer energy.

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