French unions invited to Elysée for talks on vaccinations, pensions

·3-min read

Major French unions and employers have been invited to the Élysée Palace this Tuesday for a "listening meeting", before possible announcements expected later in July from President Emmanuel Macron. The talks will focus on economic recovery, health, vaccinations, and pensions - an explosive issue in the run-up to the 2022 presidential elections.

The eight major French trade unions and employers are present at the Elysée Palace this Tuesday, to meet with Prime Minister Jean Castex, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Minister for Labour, Elisabeth Borne.

According to the Elysée, they will discuss "the economic and health situation after more than a year of crisis" and "solutions that need to be found for major challenges such as sustainable growth and ecological transition, as well as the fight against economic inequality."

This essentially underlines that the contentious issue of pension reforms will be at the heart of the discussions.

'Listening meeting'

The meeting is not expected to result in any formal announcements, however, with a government source saying today's talks are really about voicing concerns and listening.

Macron is expected to make an address later this month in a bid to define the final year of his five-year mandate, specifically regarding the reforms he wishes to tackle.

Among the most burning issues is the question of compulsory vaccination (or not) of health care workers. Prime Minister Jean Castex is expected to consult with local elected representatives on Thursday, as the threat of a fourth wave - due to the Covid delta variant - is looming.

The bosses of employer's federation Medef and the CFDT union, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux and Laurent Berger, have declared themselves in favour of it, in a joint interview published in the weekly Journal du dimanche on Sunday.

For his part, the secretary general of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez is against compusory jabs preferring to "convince [health workers] rather than coerce" them.

Pension reform

However the most explosive topic remains pension reform, tabled again by President Macron in early June. Yet it would appear the executive has somewhat lost its appetite for aggressively pushing the contraversial revisions through parliament.

In an interview published by economics daily Les Echos last Wednesday, government spokesman Gabriel Attal, stressed that a political decision on pensions would be taken in context, "according to the epidemic and the extent of the [economic] recovery".

"If the economic upturn is confirmed this summer and at the start of the new school year, and the epidemic situation is under control, it might be possible to act and set in things in motion," he insisted.

The French President could lay down the principles of the reform, and postpone its precise definition until September.

Opponents to the adoption of a reform before the 2022 presidential election are numerous, from the unions, unanimous, to the employers, through some tenors of the majority, including the head of the centrist MoDem party, François Bayrou and the president of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand (LREM).

Accroding to a poll published last Friday, 57 percent of French people are opposed to a reform before the end of Macron's five-year term.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire - who is an avid supporter of reforming the system quickly - spoke on the political TV channel LCI on Sunday to "de-dramatise" the subject of pension reform in the hope of proceeding "without brutality".

(with wires)

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