Rubbish piling up across Paris as strikes over pension reforms enter second week

Capital and other French cities suffering from rolling protest action

A result of refuse workers' strike action in Paris. AFP
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Thousands of tonnes of rubbish are piling up across Paris as workers continue to strike over proposed changes to pensions.

Three incineration plants outside the capital have been hit by stoppages that have left entire pavements covered in black bags and overflowing bins.

About one million people took to the streets at the weekend, as the protests against the reforms, which seek to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, entered a second week.

Paris City Hall confirmed about 5,400 tonnes of rubbish had piled up around the capital due to the striking workers.

Employees have for the past week been picking up rubbish in only half of Paris's districts.

The strike has hit some of the most exclusive areas including the 5th, 6th and 16th arrondissements.

Uncollected rubbish is now reportedly attracting rats.

The capital's household waste agency Syctom said it has been rerouting dustbin lorries to other storage and treatment sites in the region and has yet to resort to calling in the police.

According to the hard-left CGT union, refuse collectors and drivers can currently retire at the age of 57 but would face another two years of work under the reform plans, which still grant early retirement for those with certain working conditions.

Life expectancy for refuse workers is 12-17 years below the national average, the CGT says.

Out on the streets, 18-year-old student Christophe Mouterde told AFP the dustbin collectors were among "the first victims of this reform ... often they have started work young ... in a job that's more difficult than for other people in offices".

Pastry chef Romain Gaia, who works in the 2nd district where bins are not being collected, said: "It's terrible, there's rats and mice."

But he still offered support for the refuse workers despite the mountains of rubbish nearby.

"They are quite right to strike," said the 36-year-old. "Normally they have no power but if they stop work they really have power."

Strikes blocking fuel deliveries from French refineries ran into a sixth day on Monday, piling further pressure on President Emmanuel Macron as he races to shore up support for the publicly unpopular pension reforms in a final parliamentary vote.

To avoid fuelling more anger among the French population, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the pension reform, Mr Macron's government hopes to avoid resorting to a procedure, known as 49:3, which would allow it to push a text through parliament without a vote.

Although the French Senate on Saturday approved the bill, it still faces parliamentary hurdles before it can become law, especially in the National Assembly where Mr Macron's supporters do not have an outright majority.

The next step, scheduled for Wednesday, is the convening of a joint committee of lower and upper house lawmakers, seven apiece, to agree on a definitive version of the text.

The last and crucial moment would then be a final vote on Thursday, in the Senate and in the National Assembly.

Mr Macron's party needs the support of Les Republicains in the National Assembly to ensure the bill is approved. But the conservative politicians are divided on the issue and there are even cracks in the presidential camp, with Mr Macron's former environment minister Barbara Pompili opposing it.

"Some MPs are still hesitating, we must able to have a talk to them," government spokesman Olivier Veran told LCI television, adding that all the conditions were met "so that we don't lack any votes".

Mr Veran also echoed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who has said she preferred a vote rather than using the 49:3 procedure, which refers to the related article in the French constitution.

Laurent Berger, secretary general of France's largest union, the CFDT, said resorting to that procedure would represent a "democratic flaw" and lead to a "great degree of bitterness" among the public.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 3:06 PM