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French union shuts down France’s biggest hydroelectric site in pension reform protest

France's hydroelectric power site of Grand'Maison, at Allemont, in the French region of Isère, on May 11, 2007.
France's hydroelectric power site of Grand'Maison, at Allemont, in the French region of Isère, on May 11, 2007. © Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP

France's biggest hydroelectric power site at Grand'Maison was shut down on Tuesday by workers protesting against government plans to change the pension system, a branch of the CGT trade union said in a statement.

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The protest was launched by the CGT Énergie-Isère branch of the union, it said on its Facebook page.

The disruption to the Grand'Maison power site in southeastern France comes just a few hours after energy workers protesting against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform plans cut power to Paris's wholesale food market at Rungis, a key source for retailers and restaurants of the French capital.

Publiée par CGT ISERE sur Mardi 21 janvier 2020

Striking workers at France's national grid operator also cut off electricity to thousands of businesses and homes south of Paris on Tuesday.

"The goal is to take things up a notch" ahead of the government's formal presentation of the pension reform on Friday, said Sebastien Menesplier, secretary general of the hardliner CGT union's energy branch.

Menesplier’s union also says it is blocking seven of the 11 equipment warehouses used by electricity company Enedis and natural gas network operator GRDF, preventing them from dispatching material to work sites.

French officials have denounced the cuts which have affected thousands of homes across France since mid-December, warning that they could have dangerous consequences for ordinary citizens.

Grid operator Enedis said Tuesday's outages were reported at around 6am (0500 GMT) and affected several suburbs south of the capital as well as Orly airport, in addition to the Rungis market.

Limiting nuclear power plants' output?

On Tuesday, the CGT warned it could begin limiting output at nuclear power plants and other sites as part of its efforts to force the government to abandon the pensions overhaul.

The sabotage of power supplies underlines the determination of left-wing unions after a wave of strikes and street protests since early December failed to force Macron to back down, but disrupted train traffic and the Paris métro, spelling misery for millions of travellers and commuters.

The government says its proposed changes to the pension system will make the system more simple and equitable, but critics say it will result in people having to work for longer in order to get a full pension.

Moderate unions got on board with the plan after the government dropped a proposal to push back the age for a full pension from 62 to 64.

The situation eased considerably Monday after striking métro workers, who have been going without pay, voted to suspend their industrial action.

But the CGT warned the dispute was "far from over", and another day of demonstrations is planned for Friday.

Unions are protesting the plan for a single French pension system that would do away with dozens of special schemes that offer early retirement and other benefits to a range of employees, chiefly in the public sector.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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