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Trade unions to bring France to a halt with strikes to block pension reform

France’s trade unions are headed for a crucial face-off against President Emmanuel Macron, with fresh strikes and protests planned against a controversial pensions reform that would push back the retirement age for millions.

More than 260 protests are expected in Paris and around the country on Tuesday in what organisers hope is their biggest show of force yet against President Emmanuel Macron’s showcase legislation, after nearly two months of demonstrations. 

Unions have vowed to bring the country to a standstill over the proposed changes, which include raising the minimum retirement age to 64 from 62 and increasing the number of years people have to make contributions for a full pension.

Police expect 1.1 million to 1.4 million people to hit the streets on Tuesday, a source has told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Unions threatened to freeze up the French economy with work stoppages across multiple sectors, most visibly an open-ended strike at the SNCF national rail authority.

Commuters packed into one of the rare trains heading for Paris from the southern suburbs before dawn. The government encouraged people to work from home if their jobs allow.

A fifth of flights were cancelled at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and about a third of flights at Orly Airport. Trains to Germany and Spain are expected to come to a halt and those to and from Britain will be reduced by a third, according to the SNCF rail authority.

More than 60 percent of teachers in primary schools are expected to be on strike, as well as public sector workers elsewhere.

On the biggest day of demonstrations, so far, 1.2 million people demonstrated on January 31, according to official figures.

READ MORE: France readies itself for disruption as more pension protests loom

Opinion polls: most French voters oppose the bill

Macron put the reform plan at the centre of his re-election campaign last year and his cabinet says the changes are essential to prevent the pensions system from falling into deficit in coming years.

But unions contest that conclusion and say small increases in contributions could keep it solvent.

They also argue that the proposed measures are unfair and would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers in tiring jobs who start their careers early.

Opinion polls suggest most French voters oppose the bill.

Left-wing lawmakers say companies and the wealthy should pitch in more to finance the pension system.

The bill is under debate in the French Senate this week.

What makes Macron’s pension reform bid tricky?

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