Macron vows to push on with pension reform despite December strike threat

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed no let up in his drive to implement far-reaching pension reforms despite a looming winter of strikes by unions angered by the plan, in an interview broadcast on Monday.

Macron vows to push on with pension reform despite December strike threat
More strikes are planned for December 5th. Photo: AFP

Macron told RTL radio that there would be “no complacency or weakness” in pushing through the changes, even if it risked making him more unpopular.

“I want this reform to go to the end, I think it is necessary for the country so I will defend it,” Macron told the radio station in the pre-recorded interview.

READ ALSO What you need to know to understand why pension reform spells trouble in France

French president Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that his plans for pension reform may make him even more unpopular. photo: AFP

“Perhaps it will make me unpopular, and perhaps people will say 'it is unbearable, all of this for that',” he acknowledged.

Key French unions have called a major strike on December 5th to protest the reforms that is expected to paralyse public transport and other sectors in the country.

September 13th saw a one-day strike by workers on the Paris Metro that virtually brought the entire network to a halt.

Macron plans to implement a universal pension system that would do away with the more advantageous plans enjoyed by workers in a range of sectors, including state transport and utility companies.

During his 2017 presidential campaign, Macron had pledged not to touch the legal retirement age of 62 for most workers.

The reforms unveiled in July, which would harmonise the 42 different pension schemes currently in place, would still allow people to retire at 62, but on a reduced pension.

A full pension would only be available from 64.

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Macron gives ground to allies in unpopular pension reform bid

President Emmanuel Macron's government on Sunday offered a concession on contested French pension reforms, seeking to shore up support from prospective right-wing allies ahead of the parliamentary debate.

Macron gives ground to allies in unpopular pension reform bid

People who began work between the ages of 20 and 21 will be able to retire at 63, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the JDD weekly, rather than the headline age of 64 that has unions and large swathes of the public bristling.

“We hear the request” of MPs from the conservative Republicans party, whose votes are needed to make up a majority for the reform, Borne said.

Republicans leader Eric Ciotti had earlier told the Parisien newspaper that the change would “secure a very large majority” of his MPs.

Although re-elected to the presidency last year, Macron also lost his parliamentary majority and has been forced either to cobble together compromises or ram through laws using an unpopular constitutional side door.

But he has stuck to the widely disliked pension reform, against which hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated and many workers went on strike in two days of mass action so far, with more planned on February 7 and 11.

READ ALSO: What to expect from Tuesday’s strike in France

Meanwhile the left-wing opposition in parliament has submitted thousands of amendments to stymie debate on the law.

Borne also acknowledged demands from the Republicans and Macron’s Democratic Movement allies for a 2027 review of the reform, which aims to bring the pensions system out of deficit by 2030.

And she said the government would pile pressure on companies to end the practice of letting go of older employees, which leaves many struggling to find work in their final years before pension age.

READ ALSO: 5 minutes to understand French pension reform

“Too often, companies stop training and recruiting older people,” Borne said.

“It’s shocking for the employees and it’s a loss to deprive ourselves of their skills.”

Government plans will force companies to regularly publish details of how many older workers they employ, with Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt on Saturday trailing financial penalties for those which fail to do so.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Who is winning the battle over French pension reform?