French govt seeks compromise to end transport strike

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France’s government on Saturday offered a possible compromise to unions waging a crippling, weeks-long transport strike against pension reform, offering to withdraw the most contested proposal that would in effect have raised the retirement age by two years.

“To demonstrate my confidence in the social partners... I am willing to withdraw from the bill the short-term measure I had proposed” to set a so-called “pivot age” of 64 with effect from 2027, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe wrote in a letter to union leaders a day after they met seeking to end the labour action, now in its 38th day.

The message was delivered as thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris and other major cities in the fifth mass mobilization since December 5 to demand the government drop the pension overhaul.

The government is seeking to fuse 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system it says will be fairer and more transparent but which unions fear will see millions work longer for a smaller retirement payout.

Particularly vexing was the proposal to impose a 64 “pivot age” that people will have to work until to qualify for a full pension - two years beyond the official retirement age.

On Friday, Macron defended the reform, saying that for the pension system to remain viable as a growing number of retirees live ever longer, “either one has to contribute more, or one has to agree to work a little longer”, while insisting he does not want to see pensions lowered.

The government said the proposed “pivot age” would plug pension deficits set to soar in coming years, saving five billion euros ($5.6 billion) by 2023 and some 11 billion euros by 2026.

Philippe said Saturday the concept of an “age of equilibrium” would remain part of the reform, though he did not spell out what this means.

The premier also announced there would be a conference, as demanded by unions, to study ways of financing the pension system, which must come up with proposals by the end of April.

If the conference fails, the government will take the “measures necessary to achieve equilibrium” in the system by 2027, the prime minister warned.

But if it achieves its mandate, the parliament will be able to work the resulting proposals into the draft pension reform bill.

The government seeks to present its reform plan to the cabinet by January and the National Assembly by February 17, but it can still be redrafted later.

The moderate CFDT union welcomed “the withdrawal of the pivot age” from the bill.

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