The special pension regimes “made sense in the past but are no longer justified,” M Darmanin told the weekly newspaper the Journal du Dimanche (JDD), adding the debt-ridden schemes cost the state around £6.8billion (€8bn) a year. “Society has changed. We’re saving our pension system,” he continued. “We will not fail, the reform will happen.” He also commented on Thursday’s strike action, urging unions and striking transport workers to “condemn all forms of [protest] violence” and “not take French commuters hostage”.
France is bracing itself for nationwide public sector strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to overhaul the unwieldy and expensive pension system.
M Macron wants to merge France’s 42 different pension schemes into a single points-based system under which all workers will have the same rights.
The reform is especially aimed at the so-called special regimes of the state railway firm SNCF, the Paris metro company RATP and state utilities such as EDF, whose pension plans allow them to retire in their mid to late fifties or even their early fifties – a decade earlier than most workers.
The government has insisted that while workers will be able to hang on to “acquired rights,” the special, costly regimes had to be scrapped in order to help plug a stubborn deficit and make the system sustainable.
The government has also pledged to keep the 62-year limit but wants to rein in benefits for those who leave the labour force before 64 and give a benefits boost to those who leave afterwards.
But the pension reform has been criticised across the political spectrum.
The reform “will create only losers,” far-left lawmaker Adrien Quatannens told Europe 1 radio on Sunday.
The government says it wants a system which is both “fair and universal,” when in truth it just wants to “pick the pockets” of French workers, he said.
Conservative MEP François-Xavier Bellamy also poured cold water on M Macron’s pension plans, telling France Info radio on Saturday that the government’s “strategy of tension” was “creating a sense of anxiety” among the French.
He also slammed the pension reform as “misleading and absurd,” adding that it would “create significant inequalities and cost money”.
The December 5 strike is gearing up to be a major confrontation between the Macron government and public sector unions, whose members reject the reform outright and are ready for a long, tough fight.
An overwhelming majority of French voters, for their part, are in favour of overhauling the pension system, a poll published on Sunday found.
The Ifop poll for the JDD showed that 76 percent of French workers approve of the reform, compared with 24 percent who don’t approve.
While largely in favour of the pension reform, 64 percent of respondents said they “don’t trust” M Macron with the task of overhauling the system. Only 36 percent believe his centrist government is up to the challenge.
The pension bill is expected to be debated by lawmakers next summer. The government has said the changes will only apply to people born after 1963 and will enter progressively into force between 2025 and 2040.
• The Ifop poll of 1,004 people aged 18 and over was carried out online between November 28-29.