French unions vow to fight pension reform, with ‘mobilisation beginning in January’

France's eight biggest unions have issued a joint statement promising massive, co-ordinated strikes and demonstrations in January if the government goes ahead with planned pension reforms.

French unions vow to fight pension reform, with 'mobilisation beginning in January'

“We will decide on a first date of a united mobilisation with strikes and demonstrations in January, if the government remains stubborn on its pension reform project,” reads the statement issued on Monday by the eight largest and most influential unions – CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unsa, Solidaires and FSU.

All eight are strongly opposed to the reforms to the pension system being introduced by Emmanuel Macron’s government and are promising a repeat of the 2019 pension protests, which saw two months of widespread transport strikes that brought railways and Paris public transport to a halt.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is due to present the detailed plan for pension reform on December 15th, including raising the French pension age.

Macron’s government already introduced pension reform back in 2019 – leading to two months of strikes – which streamlined and simplified the state pension system. The reforms scrapped many of the ‘special regimes’ that allowed certain professions to retire early, but left the overall pension age at 62.

READ ALSO What you need to know about French pension reforms

The reforms were due to be implemented in 2020, but as a result of the pandemic they were never brought into effect. During the 2022 presidential election campaign, Macron included in his manifesto a promise to introduce these reforms and to go further – raising the pension age from 62 to 65.

Unions are implacably opposed to this, and were joined in their statement by several student and high school pupils unions, who stated: “The youth, already strongly affected by precarious work situations and low pay, would be strongly impacted by this reform.”

The strikes in 2019 saw two months of extremely limited service on the national railways, and weeks of virtual shutdown of public transport in Paris. It was the longest continuous transport strike since 1968. There were also periodic strikes from a wide range of employees including teachers, lawyers, waste collectors and even ballet dancers.

Speaking on Monday evening, Yvan Ricordeau, national secretary of the CFDT union, said: “We are united tonight in opposition to 65-year pension age, if the government confirms that.

“There will necessarily be a first date [for strikes] at the time of the official announcement of the reform, in January. And then there will be other dates, designed to ensure that employees oppose the 65-year limit and that these provisions are withdrawn from the pension reform bill.”

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French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.