A proposal to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 has led to around 1 million people to oppose and protest while chanting slogans like “retirement before arthritis,” across France. France’s retirement age is among the lowest in Europe.
Out of the country for a French-Spanish summit in Barcelona, President Macron said the measure, a central pillar of his second term, is needed to keep the pension system financially viable. His last attempt at pension reform in 2019 was halted a year later when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe.
Overhauling pensions has long been a controversial issue in France, with street protests halting reform efforts in 1995, and the successive government’s facing stiff resistance to changes that eventually passed in 2004, 2008 and 2010.
However, unions say it threatens hard-fought worker rights. In a country with an ageing population and growing life expectancy where everyone receives a state pension, Macron’s government said, the reform is the only way to keep the system solvent.
Quick glance at the proposed reforms:
Reports quoted from Le Monde stated that Prime Minister Borne stated that the minimum retirement age to be entitled to a full pension will be gradually increased by three months every year, starting this year.
He also said that starting from 2027, people will need to have worked for at least 43 years to get a full pension. There will be exceptions to this rule, notably for police officers and firefighters, anyone not putting in 43 years of work will have to work till age 67 in order to retire with full pensions.
One of the highlights of this reform is that there is an increase in pensions for some. According to the latest proposals, the minimum pension for low-income workers who have a full career will be increased to 85 per cent of SMIC (minimum wage), i.e. nearly €1,200 at present. Currently, more than 2 million workers fall under this category and are likely to see their pensions rise by a minimum of € 100 a month.
The Expected Criticism
Trade unions signalled that Macron may be facing a protracted fight on the issue as they are ready to call new strikes if the government doesn’t change its plans. “If there is no positive response from the government, today is a first step, and there will be a second step,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT labor union, told reporters before the march in Paris.
Some 200 major protests were taking place across the country, with the largest in Paris. Thousands of protesters had gathered at the epicentre, Paris’ iconic Place de la République and they kept pouring in to show their discontentment.
Protests took place across France, in Nantes, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille and Toulouse, as train drivers, public sector workers and refinery staff walked out. Countrywide, flights, trains and metro routes were shut down or disrupted. Many schools were shuttered because teachers, like many other French workers, were on strike.
Paris police said 38 people were detained as a mass of people thronged the streets of the capital despite freezing rain. Retirees and college students were among the diverse crowd.
Some of the biggest unions took part in the industrial action against pension reforms unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron’s government. The unions have called for another day of action on January 31st against the legislation.
All the country’s unions – including so-called “reformist” unions that the government had hoped to win to its side – have condemned the measure, as have the left-wing and far-right oppositions in the National Assembly.
The country’s trade unions and left-wing parties say that the proposed changes are not needed in order to fund France’s pension system, reported Euronews. Rather, many have suggested a rethinking of France’s tax system and a crackdown on tax evasion instead. President Macron’s proposed pension reforms come as workers in France, as elsewhere, are being squeezed by rising food and energy bills.
France spent nearly 14 per cent of its GDP on state pensions in 2018, which is more than most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Some have also pointed out that raising the retirement age and requirements on career lengths will specifically affect the most vulnerable. For instance, women are set to be the biggest losers with the new 43-year career requirement.
French lawmakers will begin examining this latest pension reform legislation next month. The plan is shaping up as a test for French President Emmanuel Macron and for the labour unions that oppose it. Some have concluded that the French President wants some sort of legacy and the proposed reforms are his means to an end.