France’s government on Thursday invoked a special constitutional power to enact a contentious pension bill without a vote in parliament, in a risky move announced by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.
The decision was made just a few minutes before the vote was scheduled because the government had no guarantee that the bill would command a majority at the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.
The bill will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, and is the flagship legislation of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term. The unpopular plan has prompted major strikes and protests across the country since January.
The move is expected to trigger a quick no-confidence motion in Macron’s government.
The Senate adopted the legislation to raise the retirement age to 64 on Thursday morning, but a ballot in the lower house National Assembly scheduled for the afternoon was seen as extremely tight.
Trains, schools, public services and ports have been affected by strikes over the last six weeks, while some of the biggest protests in decades have taken place.
An estimated 1.28 million people hit the streets on March 7.
A rolling strike by municipal garbage collectors in Paris has seen around 7,000 tonnes of uncollected trash pile up in the streets, attracting rats and dismaying tourists.
The strike has been extended until next Monday, with the prospect of serious public health problems leading to growing calls for authorities to intervene.
City police chief Laurent Nunez informed mayor Anne Hidalgo on Wednesday evening that the government would use its power to “requisition” workers, meaning some of them will be forced back to work under threat of prosecution.
Hidalgo has defended the protests as “fair”, although her office has contracted private refuse companies to clear trash in some areas, including in front of schools and creches.
Elsewhere, workers from the CFE-CGC trade union in the south of France claimed Wednesday that they had cut the electricity supply to a presidential island retreat in the Mediterranean used by Macron for his summer holidays.
Opinion polls show that two-thirds of French people oppose the pension reform and support the protest movement.