PARIS – French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe announced on Wednesday a set of pension reforms to unify the highly complex system under one scheme amid a crippling week-long general strike, the biggest in recent history.
As the country braced for the reforms, industrial action had paralyzed transport services in the capital for a sixth consecutive day. Lawyers, teachers and hospital workers have also joined the strike.
In his opening remarks, Phillip championed the ethos of solidarity that underpinned the country, “where workers proudly pay their parents’ retirement knowing that when their turn comes, their children will help them to live their retirement decently.”
The prime minister announced a minimum pensions scheme of 1,000 euros a month under the guaranteed minimum growth wage (SMIC) system, the legal minimum wage in France.
The government would also guarantee a minimum pension by law to 85 percent of SMIC workers, as well as keeping the minimum retirement age to 62, although workers will need to stay employed until the age of 64 to get their full pension.
The CGT, the largest union of railworkers, said it would “step up the strikes” following Philippe’s announcement.
“The government is taking everybody for fools,” CGT secretary-general Philippe Martinez said. “Everyone will work longer – it’s unacceptable.”
The new reform aims to merge 42 separate pension plans that exist across various sectors including civil servants, freelancers, traders, farmers and artisans, into one universal points system.
Part-time workers will no longer be penalized. Points will be allocated as of Wednesday to compensate for periods of unemployment and sickness, Phillipe said.
“Women will be the big winners of the universal system.
“Today, women’s pensions are almost half that of men. Who can accept that? No one.
“We can fix it by catching up on wages, we are trying to speed it up.
“We know that this road will be long and that women are more likely than men to have career breaks, especially to look after their children,” he added.
“Motherhood will be 100% compensated,” Philippe said.
Mothers will be rewarded with the new system and receive additional points for each child. The increase will be granted directly to the mother unless otherwise stipulated by the family, the French leader added.
“We propose a new pact between the generations.
“A deal that stays true to the one the National Council of Resistance imagined and implemented after the war to build the current pension system.
“It deeply re-establishes the foundations of the rules to correct injustices, to take into account the modern instability while remaining faithful to its founding values.
“The universal system will respond to the forgotten people in the current system,” Phillipe continued.
Some of those the system had forgotten, the prime minister cited, were the part-time cashier, the bicycle delivery man, the janitor on the graveyard shift, or a student doing odd jobs and later entering the job market.
But the question will remain whether the unions, protesters and those the system had forgotten will be appeased by the reforms.