French professionals join forces to protest pension changes

PARIS (AP) — Thousands of French professionals, including lawyers and doctors, took to the streets of Paris Monday in a new protest against the government's planned pension changes.

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The protest saw lawyers, doctors, nurses and others in regulated professions vent their displeasure at the proposed changes that President Emmanuel Macron's government says will simplify France's convoluted pensions system. The government has promised the legal retirement age of 62 won't change, but new conditions may encourage people to work longer.

A large majority of those protesting Monday were lawyers, since the National Bar Council, which initiated the demonstration, claims the proposed changes will double the taxes its members pay.

Wearing their black barristers' robes, they marched in Paris' central streets singing "no, no, no to the Macron reform," some waving posters reading "No to the pension tax."

Most lawyers across France were on strike and decided not to plead any cases and asked for trials to be postponed.

Some demonstrators warned that provinces outside of Paris would suffer most from the reforms, that would see some smaller law firms to shutter because of higher taxes.

Anne-Laure-Hélène des Ylouses, a lawyer in the Paris area, raised concerns that the new retirement system would deter young people from entering the profession.

"This puts in danger the economic model of lawyers, and for the youth, it worries them because in effect it will be very hard to establish themselves in a firm."

Nurses, podiatrists and other health workers dressed in white coats marched alongside the lawyers, expressing the same fears.

Céline Ciriani, a podiatrist in the Paris suburb of Cormeilles-en-Parisis, said the new pension system "will make us lose a lot and could eventually cause offices to close because we don't have enough money to pay our expenses."

Macron's government argues that the indebted pension system is long overdue for streamlining.

But there is growing opposition to the government's proposals, which will replace the 42 different retirement systems currently linked to certain jobs with a new, unified pension scheme. On Friday, Paris endured the biggest disruption to its public transport since 2007 as unions went on strike.

Pilots and air crew, who are not regulated by the state but have special pension arrangements which allow them to retire early, joined the protest Monday. Air France has not warned of any flight disruptions.

The demonstration took place as the government is starting a three-month consultation with unions, employers' groups and professional organizations. The pension changes will be formally presented and debated in parliament next year.

Several unions are planning demonstrations on Sept. 21 and 24 in Paris.