Thousands rally as French PM presents pension bill to ministers

Interior ministry says 249,000 join protest, with demonstrators calling for end to government’s planned reform project.

France strike
Demonstrators protest against the French government's planned reform of the pension system [Ian Langsdon/EPA-EFE]

Paris, France – As French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented details of a controversial pension reform bill to cabinet ministers on Friday, hundreds of thousands rallied in the French capital for a seventh round of demonstrations.

Protest movements against the reform have driven the country into the longest transport strike in recent history.

“The government is blind to everything that’s happening around them,” Sabrina Farouz, a 36-year-old librarian, told Al Jazeera, as she marched at Place de la Republique on Friday. 

“It’s incredible, there are hundreds and thousands of us in the streets and they just won’t listen.”

The French interior ministry said about 250,000 people protested in France on Friday.

If the reform bill is passed in its current state, Farouz said she stood to receive a pension around 30 percent lower than originally anticipated when she entered the workforce.

The 64-article, 141-page draft bill does include some concessions to unions, but also reaffirms the government’s intentions to replace the country’s 42 individual retirement plans into one universal points-based system.

The bill will be reviewed by the National Assembly in mid-February, before moving to the Senate in April. 

The “pivotal age”, that would have raised the full retirement age from 62 to 64, was not mentioned on the draft bill.

The government agreed to scrap that part of the reform earlier this month after widespread backlash.

In an interview with the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Philippe said government advisers would meet on January 30 to try and form a plan to secure 12 billion euros ($13bn) in order to “guarantee the balance of the future system” by 2027.

If the money is not found, the pivotal age could be reintroduced. The law would slowly be introduced starting in 2022, and affect only those born in 1975 or later. 

While France’s moderate CFDT union showed support for the reform after the government agreed to remove the pivotal age, hardline unions such as the CGT said they would continue striking until the amendments were scrapped altogether. 

“The government is playing stubborn, we must continue to put pressure on them,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT union, told French television.

In a further attempt to sway workers, the draft bill also promises minimum pension of 1,000 euros ($1,100) a month, around 85 percent of the national minimum wage.

But some protesters said that sum would not be enough.

Jade Elliott, a 30-year-old special needs assistant at a school in Paris, said she was hardly able to get by on her minimum wage salary of around 1,500 euros ($1,650) a month, let alone save for retirement. 

“I feel like [the government] likes to review charts and figures, but they don’t know in practise how things add up when it comes to daily expenses, say when you go to the supermarket,” she told Al Jazeera.

Elliott marched with a group of teachers who were calling for a 30 percent increase to their monthly salaries.

IIf unable to save for retirement, she says she will be forced to return to her native UK.

France protests
A man with a banner reading ‘Macron pensions: it’s no’ as he takes part in a demonstration in Paris on January 24, 2020 [AFP]

Public transport was again disrupted on Friday, with national train lines and the Paris subway only running partial service, following a short-lived relaunch earlier this week.

Despite the continued disruptions, support for the demonstrators remained strong.

An Elabe poll released on Wednesday showed 61 percent of the French population believed President Emmanuel Macron should consider the opinions of people against the reform.

“This is really about our kids,” Eric Antoine, a 47-year-old teacher told Al Jazeera.

While he would not be impacted by the reform, because he was born before the 1975 cutoff, he said: “I can’t stand for this. None of us can. We need to think about future generations.”

Source: Al Jazeera