WORLD French gov't adopts pension reform plan as protests continue unabated

WORLD

French gov't adopts pension reform plan as protests continue unabated

Xinhua

03:34, January 25, 2020

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"Yellow Vests" protesters confront police near the Arch of Triumph in Paris, France, on Dec. 8, 2018. (Photo: Xinhua)

PARIS, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- Discussed at length with the unions, the French government's pension reform was formally presented during a cabinet meeting here on Friday before it was sent to the National Assembly, where President Emmanuel Macron enjoys majority support and will likely be able to transform the controversial plan into law by the summer.

"The draft law is the result of long consultations ... Its objectives are equity between all French people and future generations and the simplification (of pension system)," Health and Solidarity Minister Agnes Buzyn said after the head of state met his ministers at the Elysee Palace.

Challenging a taboo, the government has proposed a point-based pension system with same rules applying to all citizens regardless of profession or sector to replace the current system of 42 regimes.

It also plans to end a specific regime for workers of public transport companies RATP and SNCF, which allows train drivers and other staff who work underground to retire at age 52, a decade earlier than the legal retirement age for a full public pension.

"I do not see why the reform would not be approved. Not to make the reform today is to sacrifice the young and the next generations. It is also to keep precarious people without a decent retirement," Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud told France Inter radio early Friday.

In a move to defuse public anger, Macron, who still refuses to drop the reform, has offered concessions, including a temporary removal of the so-called "pivot age" of 64, the most contested measure.

However, his "sweeteners" have failed to abate fierce opposition to his plan. For a seventh round of nationwide demonstrations, the unions' "determination remains intact," according to Yves Veyrier, head of the Force Ouvriere union.

"We have weeks, months of protests ahead of us," he was quoted by local media as saying.

Ahead of the Paris rally, Philippe Martinez, general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union, said "the government is playing on stubbornness, we must continue to put pressure on it."

The unions, which say the reform will require people to work longer for a full pension, staged a wave of public sector strikes in early December that hit transport networks.

While signs of fatigue appeared among rail and metro strikers, industrial action persists in some other sectors. Energy workers on Wednesday temporarily halted power generation at France's biggest hydro-electricity plant, following a deliberate outage at Rungis, the world's largest fresh food wholesale market in southern Paris.

To add pressure on the government, dockers launched a "dead ports" operation early this week, blocking seaports and taking a toll on companies' activity.

The unions brought up to 400,000 people onto the streets of Paris on Friday, up from 250,000 people counted on Jan. 16, CGT data showed. The Interior Ministry's figure was not yet available.

Public anger was also reflected in opinion polls. Seven out of ten French citizens said the strikes and protests should continue, a BVA survey released on Thursday showed.

A new day of nationwide protests was scheduled for Jan. 29 ahead of a conference on the pension regime's funding, during which the unions should propose ways to bring the costly pension system into balance after they rejected the government's proposal to make workers extend their careers by two years to age 64.


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