June 1, 2023

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Why are French workers struggling to raise the retirement age?

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A French government plan to make people work two more years before they can retire on a full pension has sparked such outrage that workers blocked roads and railways in strikes that paralyzed the country for weeks. Protests against raising the retirement age to 64 have escalated into clashes with police in the rubbish-strewn streets of Paris after a strike by garbage collectors.

France has a lower minimum retirement age than many of its European neighbours. While the complexities of Europe’s pension systems make comparisons difficult, changes in the retirement age have sparked less reaction in countries including Britain, where the state retirement age of 66 is expected to rise to 68, or in Germany which is poised to increase. . From 65 to 67.

Opponents of President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, including powerful unions, say benefits for French workers are hard-won battles with successive governments and lie at the heart of national identity.

France has been hit by protests over pension plans as Macron continues to assertiveness

“Pensions are a large part of the social contract in France that developed after World War II,” said Emile Chabal, historian of 20th century Europe. “And that social contract is, quite simply: if you work a certain number of years, the state will give you a pension to live on.”

The manner in which the government pushed through the legislation only fueled the protests after Macron used his constitutional powers to avoid a vote in the lower house of parliament.

And it’s not just about retirement age. The slogans broadened to include broader grievances reverberating outside France, including massive inflation and social inequality.

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France is not the only European country rocked by strikes this winter over wages and other demands, as the countries grapple with the fallout from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. But the pension crisis has caused some of the worst unrest in years in France, which has a long tradition of labor labour. This is not the first time that the French have gone through efforts to change the pension system.

“Any attempt to touch pensions, over the past 30 or 40 years, has led to very large protests,” Chabal said.

An attempt by the government of President Jacques Chirac to reform the pension system in 1995 It caused strikes that prevented major services and eventually resulted in the plan being dropped.

“Everything kind of stopped for a long period of time,” said Heather Connolly, a professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management. She said that retirement in France is “another life after our working life.”

French workers also filled the streets in 2010, when President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a law raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, despite a backlash.

Macron tried to push for pension changes during his first term in office, in 2019. Strike broke down Public transportation for weeks, and the government later abandoned that attempt in the face of protests and the emergence of the epidemic.

Macron advocates raising the retirement age at a time when protests are raging in France

A new pension law, under review by the Constitutional Council, will gradually raise the minimum retirement age until 2030. Most people will need to be at least 64, and to secure certain social security Contributions over 43 yearsbefore they can receive a full pension, with some exceptions including those with physically taxing jobs.

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Macron says the plan is the best way to ensure the future of a system that relies on working-age contributors, with a higher life expectancy. He has admitted that it is unpopular but said it is necessary to balance the books.

If the retirement age remains the same, there will only be 1.2 workers paying taxes to support each retiree in 2070, down from 1.7 in 2020, Government data Indicates.

Public pension spending is also weighing heavily on coffers: it was about to happen 13.6% of France’s GDP in 2021, compared to 11 percent In Spain and 10 percent In GermanyAccording to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Protesters have resisted being called lazy, arguing that the government must address deteriorating working conditions that are leading to job dissatisfaction and a reluctance to work longer. France has some of the highest rates levels of exhaustion and on-the-job accidents among European workers. Officials have faced criticism that older employees are often fired, and they have promised to address working conditions.

Some see the focus on the age of 62 in the discussion of French retirement law as misleading: The average retirement age in the country is 64.5, according to OECD data.

“It is a completely wrong idea that all French people can retire at 62, because it depends on the number of points you have built up during your career,” Connolly said.

Striking French workers doubt they want the right to be “idle”

Critics also warn The new plan It will deepen inequality and disproportionately affect blue-collar workers, who are more likely to start work earlier, and die earlier than white-collar workers.

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“Many people don’t make enough money to enjoy life and go to work every day for more than 40 years,” said Julia Perez, 28, who joined the protests. “So I think retirement doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone, especially between the rich and the poor.”

She said the students marched alongside older protesters near retirement age out of concern for their future. “Inflation is really bad, and salaries aren’t going up, so it’s like nothing is giving us the incentive to work for very long.”

Rick Nowak contributed to this report.