People demonstrate on Republic Square in Paris, France, January 11 2020. Picture: BETRAND GUAY / AFP
People demonstrate on Republic Square in Paris, France, January 11 2020. Picture: BETRAND GUAY / AFP

Paris — The French government has signalled it is prepared to scrap an effort to raise the age at which workers can retire with full benefits to 64 in a bid to get the country’s moderate unions on board with President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plan.

“I am prepared to withdraw from the bill the short-term measure which I had proposed, consisting of gradually converging from 2022 toward an equilibrium age of 64 years in 2027,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe wrote in a letter to unions on Saturday.

He cautioned that if the sides fail to reach an agreement, the government will issue new rules by decree to bring financing of the system into balance by 2027.

In hastily arranged meetings on Friday, the government presented unions with documents showing that setting the so-called pivot age would generate savings of €3bn in 2022 and €12bn in 2027, according to AFP news agency. The retirement age for most French workers is 62, while some categories such as rail and metro employees can stop work several years earlier.

The potential compromise is an attempt to defuse a situation that has resulted in mass transport strikes in major cities for several weeks, and to win the support of less radical unions — in particular the CFDT, France’s largest private sector union.

The CFDT said in a statement it appreciated the withdrawal of the pivot age from the reform bill and would pursue negotiations in the framework suggested by the government.

While far-left unions are demanding a wholesale rejection of Macron’s reform programme, their more moderate peers support the overarching plan to replace 42 separate pension systems with one universal, points-based arrangement. They’ve balked, however, at a measure to finance it by introducing penalties and bonuses to encourage later retirement.

For the far-left union that has led the strikes, however, Philippe’s letter fell short. Yves Veyrier, who heads the Force Ouvriere union, said the only thing that had changed was that the government was proposing to bring in the new retirement age in 2027 versus a gradual introduction from 2022.

Bloomberg