A place in the sun: French defend right to retire early

A row on the calm waters of the French Riviera under bright, blue skies.

It's a typical day for 64-year-old retired physiotherapist Joelle Svetchine.

She says she can lead an active life because she retired early, benefitting from a pension system that allows many French workers to stop working years before their peers in other parts of Europe.


"I think I'm lucky. I'm very very lucky to have free time, to be in good shape, to not have to worry about work and to have this freedom. I feel like I have that freedom I had in my 20s again, deciding what to study but you give yourself time. So there you go, it's really about that freedom. And for me, that has no price."

But the pension system is under threat.

President Macron wants to reform it.

He's pressing ahead with creating a universal pension system from a mishmash of schemes, each with their own benefits.

He says it will be fairer.

But many in France disagree - and it's provoked weeks of protests and strikes.

Trade unions say it will mean workers affected could have to work longer to get the same pension.

Joelle began working in the private sector before switching to public hospitals.

She says she often saw workplace injuries the likes of which unions cite as justification for those who do physical work to retire up to a decade earlier than typical workers.


"It's true that it's difficult to make rules that apply to everyone. In all jobs, the body gets worn down. But I can see that in foreign countries, like Germany, in all these countries, people work longer. But in what state? Can someone work longer, do they have more sick leave or not? That's what we need to study, and compare with countries where they work much longer to find out what happens in the last years of work."

Macron has said a single, points-based system - which gives every worker the same rights for every euro contributed - will be fairer, in particular for women.