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Pension reform protests in France: What you need to know

Unions have pledged to continue protesting proposed changes, including raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

New strikes and protests are underway from some of France’s main trade unions against a highly controversial pension reform plan, which has drawn millions of people to the streets.

The proposed changes include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increasing the number of years people must pay contributions to receive full state pension benefits.

The reforms were central to President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign last year, but are proving deeply unpopular.

His cabinet says the changes are essential to prevent the pension system from falling short and young people bearing the burden.

Here’s what you need to know:

What are the pension reforms?

  • It is proposed to raise the retirement age by two years to 64 years. The change will happen gradually, by three months a year from September to 2030.
  • From 2027, workers must pay social security contributions over 43 years instead of 42 years to get a full pension. The extra year was already foreseen in a 2014 reform, but Macron is accelerating the pace of transition.

  • Guaranteed minimum pension income of no less than 85 percent of the net minimum wage, or about €1,200 per month at current levels, for new retirees.

  • After the first year of retirement, minimum income pensions are indexed to inflation.

Protesters attend a demonstration against the French government’s pension reform plan in Pont-Audemer (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

How will this affect retirees?

  • Increasing the labor participation of 60-64 year olds. In France, the employment rate in this age group is only 33 percent, compared to 61 percent in Germany and 69 percent in Sweden.
  • The changes will lead to 17.7 billion euros ($18.8 billion) per year in annual pension contributions by 2030, according to estimates from the Department of Labor.
  • The government says that the pensions of the poorest 30 percent of the population will rise by 2.5 to 5 percent.
  • Unions say small increases in contributions could keep it solvent. They say the proposed measures are unfair and would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers in grueling jobs who start their careers early.

What has been the public reaction?

  • In recent months, nationwide demonstrations have broken out against Macron’s government, with tens of thousands of people taking part.
  • Train services and the Paris metro were disrupted after rail workers also joined the planned protests.
  • On the largest demonstration day to date, 1.27 million people demonstrated on January 31. Unions have warned of continued public transport strikes that could paralyze parts of the country for weeks.
  • Marine Le Pen’s far-right party has also expressed concern over Macron’s proposed changes, expressing dismay at attempts to paralyze France with continued strikes.

What’s the latest news on the ground?

  • Demonstrations began with roadblocks on Tuesday after unions vowed to bring the country “to a halt”.
  • Only one in five regional and high-speed trains are expected to run.
  • The Esso refineries of Port Jerome in northern France and the Fos-Sur-Mer in southern France were on strike, union CGT said.
A man wearing a mask depicting French President Emmanuel Macron is seen in a wheelchair at a rally in Dunkirk, northern France, on March 7, 2023, as part of a nationwide day of action against the French president's pension reform and postponement of the statutory retirement age.  from 62 to 64. - Unions have vowed to bring the country to a halt over the proposed changes, which include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increasing the number of years employees have to pay contributions for a full pension.
A man wearing a mask depicting French President Emmanuel Macron is seen riding a wheelchair at a rally in Dunkirk, northern France (Francois Lo Presti/AFP)
French energy workers from French oil giant TotalEnergies attend a demonstration against the French government's pension reform plan in Saint-Nazaire, as part of the sixth day of national strike and protests, in Saint-Nazaire, France
French energy workers from oil giant TotalEnergies attend a demonstration in Saint-Nazaire (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)