PARIS: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets yesterday in protest against a proposed overhaul of France’s debt-ridden pension system, but no major disruptions were reported over a reform generally regarded as moderate.
Pension overhauls are highly contentious in France — with previous efforts in 1995 and 2010 unleashing mass protests and damaging strikes — but the Socialist government’s latest reform has not yet met with the same level of resistance.
Four hardline unions called for protests in 180 locations across the country, but moderate unions did not back the call, saying they hoped to seek changes in parliament.
Overall, 360,000 workers, youths and retirees took to the streets across the country, the CGT union said, while police estimated that 155,000 demonstrators turned up in 170 locations.
Unions have denounced the reform as “anti-youth” because it will incrementally raise the total contribution period from the current 41.5 years to 43 years by 2035, meaning employees will need to work longer to be eligible for full pensions.
A full package of reforms will be officially put forward on September 18 as France, under pressure from the European Union, looks to plug holes that will see the generous state pension scheme fall more than ¤20bn ($26.5bn) into the red by 2020.
The reform plan also proposes increasing employee and employer contributions to France’s retirement system, but avoids more controversial proposals such as raising the official retirement age or slapping a new tax on French retirees.
The French parliament is to consider the measures in October. The aim of the unions yesterday was not to have the draft bill abolished, but to have it improved during parliamentary deliberations.
The protests’ impact was minimal, with few disruptions reported on train services or at the Paris airports of Orly and Charles de Gaulle. But Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the FO union warned that there was still widespread discontent. “It’s the image of a volcano—you have a little smoke, the earth doesn’t tremble, but it simmers and at some point, it has to erupt,” he said.