France protests: why are trade unions staging demonstrations - what has Macron said about pension reforms?

Trade unions across France have been staging widespread strikes and protests against the pension reforms since January

The official visit of King Charles III to France has been postponed after French unions announced that they were to stage further protests against Emmanuel Macron's pension reform plans during the royal trip.

Downing Street confirmed that the British government's request to postpone the trip had been accepted by Macron after a night of violent protests on the street of Bordeaux, a city King Charles and the Queen Consort, Camilla were due t visit during their trip. The Bordeaux town hall was set alight by demonstrators and 80 arrests were made at protests across the country.

Fury has been high in French streets after Macron's decision to enact the pension reform bill without a vote in the National Assembly. On Thursday (23 March), at least 119,000 people took part in a demonstration in Paris while a further one million people joined various protests around the country.

It comes after Emmanuel Macron survived a vote of no-confidence in his government which had been triggered after he enacted controversial pension reforms without a vote in the French National Assembly. He has survived the vote, but the French president narrowly avoided the possibility of losing the confidence of his government. The final count saw 278 MPs vote in favour - this fell just nine votes short of the threshold.

The pension reforms have been met with widespread criticism, including MPs on the left and right as well as the French public, with many protesting and striking in response to Macron's plans. The French president took the decision to use a special constitutional power just minutes before a schedule vote on the bill was due to take place on Thursday (16 March). French Prime Minster Élisabeth Borne was jeered and ridiculed by MPs within the chamber when she invoked article 49:3 of the constitution, which allows the government to bypass a vote in the Assembly.

What pension reforms is Emmanuel Macron aiming to introduce?

The reforms include raising the age of retirement from 62 to 64. The legislation would also increase the minimum number of years of contributions needed until a worker is eligible for a full pay-out.

Macron is facing widespread criticism for enacting a controversial pension reforms bill without a vote in the French National Assembly. (Credit: Getty Images)
Macron is facing widespread criticism for enacting a controversial pension reforms bill without a vote in the French National Assembly. (Credit: Getty Images)
Macron is facing widespread criticism for enacting a controversial pension reforms bill without a vote in the French National Assembly. (Credit: Getty Images)

Macron campaigned during the last French presidential election in 2022 on the platform of pension reforms, arguing that the changes would make the French economy more competitive. While he won the election against far-right candidate Le Pen, the proposed reforms have been highly unpopular with opposition MPs and the public.

The pension reforms bill had already passed through a vote in the upper house - the Senate - in a 193 to 114 vote. However, Macron invoked the constitutional power to avoid a possible defeat in the National Assembly, where his party no longer hold a presidential majority.

What has been the reaction to the pension reforms bill?

The bill has been highly contentious across France since its formation. A record number of people have taken to the streets to protest Macron’s reforms since January.

French voters have been protesting against Macron’s plans for pension reforms. (Credit: Getty Images)
French voters have been protesting against Macron’s plans for pension reforms. (Credit: Getty Images)
French voters have been protesting against Macron’s plans for pension reforms. (Credit: Getty Images)

Almost 500,000 people took part in protests against the proposed changes on Wednesday 15 March, ahead of the scheduled vote. Trade unions taking part included those representing waste workers, with rubbish piling high on the streets of cities such as Paris during the most recent strike action.

Other workers taking strike action to voice their opposition to the pension reforms included transport workers and teachers. Infrastructure such as railways, airports and schools were affected as a result.

Fuel deliveries were also blocked across all of the country’s refineries in early March. An Ifop poll released days before the intended vote showed that up to 70% of the French public opposed the pension reforms, while 56% of those polled said that those striking and protesting against the reforms were justified in their actions.