Dialogue not over, French PM says as workers protest unpopular pensions reform

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Bridges between President Emmanuel Macron’s government and labor unions are not burned despite nationwide strike plans, the French prime minister said on Saturday as her government battles to tame public anger over an unpopular pensions reform.

Elisabeth Borne earlier this week broke the news to the French that they will have to work two years longer, to age 64, before receiving the state pension, if the reform - one of Macron’s main political promises - is adopted by parliament.

Teaming up in a rare act of unity, unions have already announced a nationwide day of strike action on January 19 and workers in key sectors like refineries and public transport have said they would take part in the movement.

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“The dialogue is not over... we have had numerous consultations with labor organizations which allowed us to improve the draft law and account for individual situations we hadn’t necessarily had in mind before,” Borne said.

“My objective today is to convince the French people that we have paid attention to all the particular hardships, that this reform is fair and that it enables social progress.”

Speaking on France Inter radio, the country’s largest station, in a 45-minute program in which listeners could pose questions, Borne tried to calm peoples’ nerves on a reform most French reject, according to recent polls.

A teacher introduced as Xavier asked: “I was set to retire in a little more than two years... and now you are adding me a whole school year... although I really start feeling worn down by the job. Why this brutality?”

Borne responded: "I hear all those who are calling the reform brutal, I think what would be brutal is for our country to not have a pay-as-you-go pension system any more.” She repeated the government’s mantra that the reform was needed to keep finances in balance.

The reform’s passage through parliament will not be easy.

The government lacks a working majority and will need to win over several dozen conservative lawmakers.

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