Macron vs. the people: why France is resisting the president’s pension reform

Major strikes have taken place in France since the government announced plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

President Emmanuel Macron claims changes are necessary to make the pension system financially viable, as people are living longer.

In most EU countries, where citizens are expected to work past 64, many struggle to understand the protests.

Our reporter Monica Pinna has been speaking to campaigners and experts to bring you a clearer picture.

Increasing inequalities

A key criticism of the reform is that it penalises those with physically demanding jobs, as they will find it harder to work for longer.

Those with manual jobs also tend to have lower incomes, which is linked to a lower life expectancy. This means that if a blue-collar worker retires at 64, they will potentially have fewer years to enjoy their retirement in good health.

The pace is increasing, but our bodies aren’t keeping up. That's why it's hard to work until you're 60 or older.

At a rally in Lyon, Monica meets 60-year-old delivery driver Salim Ouagued.

“The pace is increasing”, he tells us, “...but our bodies aren’t keeping up. That's why it's hard to work until you're 60 or older”.

He adds, “We’re being asked not to enjoy our families. [...] There’s nothing human in their calculations”.

Will women lose out?

Women also claim they will be disproportionately affected as many have career breaks because of children. This is often followed by part-time work, meaning it can take women longer to reach the required number of pension contributions.

Macron’s government claims their reform will reduce existing inequalities by increasing the minimum pension rate. Its critics say it’s unclear who will be eligible.

Under the current rules, French women's pensions are already 40% lower than men's, as wage inequality has a knock-on effect in retirement.

Other ways to reform?

Monica travels to Paris to speak to Bruno Palier, an expert on pension systems at the Faculty of Political Science.

Bruno explains why some in Europe might not understand the anger in France.

"A Swede or a German might say: ‘They never work, they do 35 hours a week [...] But actually, there is this densification of the workload. That means that there are certainly fewer years worked, fewer people in employment, and as a result, those who do work have to work harder.”

He suggests that instead of increasing the retirement age, Macron could balance the books by increasing the amount paid in social contributions.

“But it’s obvious that the government doesn’t want to do that,” he adds. “It’s taboo.”

For now, the struggle continues, as unions plan for strikes throughout March.