France faces prolonged strike misery as unions reject pension proposals

Henry Samuel
France's prime minister unveiled much-awaited pension reform plans on Wednesday - REUTERS

France is heading for more strike misery after unions rejected en masse President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plan despite apparent concessions, including delaying its starting date.

In a much-awaited televised address, French prime minister Edouard Philippe confirmed on Wednesday that a new “universal” pension system would be implemented and that the current patchwork of 42 different regimes, some with lavish perks, would be phased out.

Current pension calculations based on a private sector worker's 25 best earning years, or six months for public servants are to be replaced by a universal points-based scheme.  

But with France entering its seventh day of crippling strikes with rail lines around the country blocked, he said the controversial changes would be introduced "without brutality", and would not affect workers born before 1975.

French unions are calling for tougher strike action Credit:  JEFF PACHOUD/AFP

Sweeteners included a guaranteed minimum pension of 1,000 euros for all who had worked their full quota of years, not the case for many today.

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.

"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 Mr Philippe.

He said he said he was convinced the proposals would "justify" the end of industrial action that has caused major transport disruption and seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in two mass protests since last Thursday.

However, unions flatly rejected the proposals.

Ominously for the government, even the moderate CFDT, France’s biggest union which backs the idea of a new points-based system, said the government had “crossed a red line” by raising the de facto retirement age to 64.

“The government’s taking the mickey,” said Philippe Martinez, head of the leftist CGT union.

His union’s rail arm said the proposals were “not up to the mark” and should “encourage workers to strengthen the strike”.

“We are heading for the wall. This will harden the (strike) movement,” said Bruno Poncet of hardline Sud-Rail.

However, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, head of the employers’ federation, Medef, hailed a “good balance between a redistributive reform” and one that meant that “when possible, we work longer”.

Unions are calling for a fresh day of national protests next Tuesday.

Mr Philippe said: “My door is open, my hand is outstretched.”