Despite public anger, French PM says "time has come" to overhaul pension system

Source: Xinhua| 2019-12-12 01:58:06|Editor: huaxia
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Police stand guard during a strike in Paris, France, Dec. 10, 2019.(Photo by Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua)

"The time has come to build a universal pension system," says French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, while the strike staged by sector workers entered its seventh consecutive day in Paris, forcing millions of workers to switch to bikes and e-scooters, use car-sharing or work from home.

PARIS, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) -- French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday outlined the key elements of his government's plan to gradually overhaul the country's multiple-regime pension system, saying "the time has come to build a universal pension system."

"Honestly, I say to the French who are wondering about our project: we may disagree on some points but the government's ambition is that of social justice," Philippe told the country's Economic, Social and Environmental Council, a consultative assembly.

He stressed that the government had no "hidden agenda" but was working to protect workers' pensions via "a stronger (system) based on solidarity," which offers to every pensioner the same right for each euro contributed.

Challenging a taboo, the government has proposed a point-based pension system with same rules applying to all, 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 52, a decade earlier than the legal retirement age for a full public pension.

A woman takes part in a demonstration in Paris, France, on Dec. 5, 2019.(Photo by Yu Zhou/Xinhua)

Under the new system, the government would maintain the legal retirement age of 62, but it encourages workers to extend their careers, Philippe said, arguing that "to guarantee pensions without raising taxes, the only solution is to work a little longer."

It would also guarantee a minimum pension of 1,000 euros (1,109 U.S. dollars) per month for those who worked a full career, and has pledged that those who had part-time jobs or were gig economy workers, such as couriers or office cleaners, would earn pensions for every hour worked.

The overhaul would apply fully only to those entering the labour force in 2022. For those who were born before 1975 nothing will be changed, promised Philippe.

"This reform is not a battle ... It seems that the guarantees given to the most concerned people justify that the dialogue should resume and the strike which penalizes millions of French people should stop," said the French premier.

However, opponents also see the other face of the coin. Philippe Martinez, head of France's hardline General Confederation of Labor (CGT) union, dismissed the government's planned reform as "a mockery."

"We are not happy at all with the government's announcements. It is a joke and in particular it makes a mockery of those who are fighting today and of public opinion, which is largely unfavourable to the reform," Martinez told LCI television.

According to Laurent Berger, general secretary of the moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) union, the government had "crossed a red line" by inviting people to delay their retirement.

The CFDT, which has so far stayed out of the strikes, was to meet later in the day to decide on possible further protest actions over the reform plan, Berger told Le Figaro newspaper.

"The combat continues. It's necessary to generalize the strikes and amplify the demonstrations until (the reform's) withdrawal," tweeted Olivier Besancenot, spokesperson of the New Anticapitalist Party.

Passengers queue to enter a metro station in Paris, France, Dec. 10, 2019.(Xinhua/Gao Jing)

On Wednesday, public sector workers went on strike for the seventh consecutive day, forcing millions of workers to switch to bikes and e-scooters, use car-sharing or work from home.

Only one in five high-speed trains is operational and 26 percent of intercity trains run. Most of Paris's 16 Metro lines are closed with only two driverless lines maintaining their usual frequencies.

Traffic disruptions are expected to continue until the end of the week, according to Alain Krakovitch, head of commuter trains at the state-owned national railway company SNCF.

The platform is seen with no person at the peak commuting period in the evening at the Saint Lazare Railway Station in Paris, France, Dec. 10, 2019.(Xinhua/Gao Jing)

The unions have called for further protests on Dec. 12 and Dec. 17 following two mass demonstrations on Tuesday and last Thursday.