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Strikes loom over pension reform push

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-01-12 09:49

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne leaves a news conference in Paris on Tuesday after laying out details of the country's controversial pension reform plan. BERTRAND GUAY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Govt, unions head for showdown as France set to raise retirement age to 64

France's eight main trade unions on Tuesday called for national strikes on Jan 19 right after Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced the latest pension reform, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030.

Under the government proposal, the age to retire and claim a pension will be raised gradually by three months each year, starting this September, reaching the target age of 64 in 2030.

People will also need to have worked for at least 43 years to get a full pension, starting 2027.

Meanwhile, the minimum pension will be increased to 85 percent of the minimum age, meaning a monthly pension of around 1,200 euros ($1,287).

Even some supporters view the changes as risky and likely to provoke a backlash, Agence France-Presse commented.

The raising of the retirement age is opposed by nearly 80 percent of French people, according to an Odoxa poll. It has been compounded by the worsening cost of living crisis in the country in recent years.

Borne told a news conference on Tuesday that her government would work on convincing the public that the reform was necessary.

"I'm well aware that changing our pension system raises questions and fears among the French," she said, adding that doing nothing about the projected deficits of the pension system would be "irresponsible".

"We must face reality and find solutions to preserve our social model."

France has one of the lowest retirement ages among industrialized nations and spends more than most other countries on pensions at nearly 14 percent of its GDP, according to the European Union's statistics agency Eurostat.

The new retirement age of 64 is already a compromise from the previous proposal of 65.

A joint statement by the trade unions on Tuesday said their strikes aim to "kick off a powerful movement for pensions in the long term".

It will be the first time in 12 years since the last pension changes that all of France's unions are united.

Laurent Berger, secretary-general of the CFDT union, called the reform "one of the most brutal of the last 30 years".

"People will have two fewer years to enjoy their retirement, enjoy their children, their grandchildren. This is why there is such strong desire among the public that the reform is massively rejected," Laurent Escure, secretary-general of the UNSA union, said.

'The only way'

In his New Year address, French President Emmanuel Macron argued that raising the retirement age is the only way to preserve the system as the ratio of workers to retirees falls in the coming decades.

"We must work longer," he said in the televised address. Macron explained that the goal of the pension reform was to "strengthen the pension system, which if we do nothing will be threatened since we will rely on debt to finance it".

Pension reform was on Macron's agenda since he first became president in 2017, but the past three years of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced him to put off the plan.

The 45-year-old centrist put the issue at the heart of his successful reelection campaign last year, pointing to forecasts that the system would fall into heavy deficit at the end of the decade.

French economist Thomas Piketty wrote in Le Monde newspaper over the weekend that the projected savings of 20 billion euros a year by 2030 "will weigh down entirely on the poorest".

The pension reform will have to be approved by the parliament, where Macron's alliance does not have an absolute majority.

"The French can count on our determination to block this unfair reform," Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Rally party and a member of the National Assembly, wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

Agencies contributed to the story.

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