France PM makes concessions to striking workers over pension reform

PARIS: France’s Prime Minister insisted on Wednesday that the government would push ahead with reforms to the country’s fragmented pension system but offered concessions to unions as a crippling strike entered its seventh day.
Public transport networks in Paris and other main cities have been paralysed by the walkout, which began on last Thursday and left shops, hotels and restaurants fearing for the impact on their bottom line.
In a televised address, Edouard Philippe said the highly-contested pension changes would be implemented in phases, “without brutality”, and would not affect workers born before 1975.
There would be a guaranteed minimum pension of 1,000 euros ($1,100) for all who had worked their full quota of years, a higher amount than some — including farmers — currently receive.
According to official statistics, the average pension in 2017 was just over 1,600 euros.
And the prime minister said the legal retirement age would remain 62, although an additional two years of work would be required from 2027 for people to leave with a full pension.
“The time has come to construct a universal retirement system,” said the head of government, insisting the overhaul would be fairer and would better protect vulnerable workers.
“To guarantee our pension, to finance a higher level of solidarity, to benefit from a higher life expectancy without increasing taxes, the only solution is to work a bit longer, and progressively a bit longer, as is the case everywhere in Europe and everywhere in the world,” said Philippe, announcing the “incentive” for later retirement.
Philippe said the government’s proposals would “justify” the end of labour action that has disrupted national rail services and grounded many planes. Hundreds of thousands of people have also taken to the streets in two mass protests since last Thursday.
French unions have vowed to resist until the plan is withdrawn, in the biggest show of union force since President Emmanuel Macron came to power in 2017 vowing to cut public spending and make the economy more competitive.
In anticipation of Philippe’s announcement, unions kept up the pressure on Wednesday with a seventh day of transport strike.
The proposed reform will unite into a single plan the current 42 pension regimes across the public and private sectors.
It would replace the current pension calculations — based on a private sector worker’s 25 best earning years, or six months for public servants — with a universal points-based scheme.