French workers retire at 62. What are they striking about?

Transport, schools and hospitals crippled in pension reforms stand-off with Macron

Protesters hold up flares as French union members demonstrate against proposed pension reforms in Marseille on Thursday. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Protesters hold up flares as French union members demonstrate against proposed pension reforms in Marseille on Thursday. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

 

French public sector workers began a nationwide strike on Thursday over Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform France’s generous pension system, in the biggest challenge to the president since gilets jaunes protests erupted last year.

Railway workers, teachers and emergency room medics were among those joining the industrial action, which threatens to paralyse France for days. Some private sector workers also went on strike over the pension reforms.

Here is what’s at stake:

What does Macron’s pension reform aim to do?

Macron wants to set up a single points-based pension system in which each day worked earns points for a worker’s future pension benefits.

That would mark a big break from the existing set-up with 42 different sector-specific pension schemes, each with different levels of contributions and benefits. Rail workers, mariners and Paris Opera House ballet dancers can retire up to a decade earlier than the average worker.

Currently pension benefits are based on a worker’s 25 highest earning years in the private sector and the last six months in the public sector.

The president says a points-based system would be fairer and simpler. It would also put pension funding on a sounder footing as the population ages.

See also Statista.com
See also Statista.com

At 14 per cent of economic output, French spending on public pensions is among the highest in the world. An independent pension committee forecast the system would run a deficit of more than €17 billion, 0.7 per cent of GDP, by 2025 if nothing is done.

What about the retirement age?

Polls show the French are deeply attached to keeping the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries. Public workers who do arduous or dangerous jobs, such as mariners, can leave years earlier.

Macron says the French are going to have to work longer, but is shying away from simply raising the retirement age.

One idea is to keep the 62-year limit, but rein in benefits for those who leave the labour force before 64 and give a benefits boost to those who leave afterwards.

However, the president has indicated he would prefer to focus on the duration of a worker’s career rather than the age at which they stop working.

What is the unions’ problem with the reform?

Public sector unions fret that their workers will come out worse because under the current system the state makes up for the chronic shortfall between contributions and payouts in the sector.

Locals ride bicycles to go to work during a national strike action on Rivoli Street near City Hall in Paris on Thursday. Photograph: Julien De Rosa
Locals ride bicycles to go to work during a national strike action on Rivoli Street near City Hall in Paris on Thursday. Photograph: Julien De Rosa

Unions also worry they will lose their say on contributions and benefits under a centrally managed points-based system.

They are eager to show they are still relevant after Macron pushed through an easing of the labour code and reform of the state-run SNCF rail operator despite their opposition earlier in his presidency.

Is there room for compromise?

Prime minister Edouard Philippe has indicated concessions could be made on when the reform takes effect.

He said he favours a compromise between “an immediate and brutal transition” that would make the reforms applicable to people born after 1963, and a “grandfathering” clause that would impact only people entering the labour market from 2025.

But Philippe says the government will not back down on creating a points-based system, one of Macron’s core election promises.

France’s biggest union, the reform-minded, moderate CFDT, is open to the idea of a points-based system. The hardline CGT and Force Ouvriere unions, which unlike the CFDT are strongest in the public sector, reject the reform outright and are digging in for a long, hard fight. – Reuters

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.