France’s Pension Changes Won’t Affect Older Workers, Prime Minister Vows

France’s Pension Changes Won’t Affect Older Workers, Prime Minister Vows

PARIS — Hoping to tamp down the transport strikes that are choking France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe promised in a much-anticipated speech on Wednesday that the government’s planned pension overhaul would not affect older workers and would have a limited effect on those now in mid-career.

Eventually, changes would be made to push French people to work until age 64, beyond the current retirement age of 62, Mr. Philippe said, but the full effect of the pension changes would be felt only by people born after 2004. Those born before 1975 would not be affected at all, he promised, and he offered guarantees to a host of professions — including teachers, nurses, soldiers and police officers — that their pension benefits would be protected.

But on some crucial points that have brought tens of thousands into the streets and halted public transport, Mr. Philippe was firm: The “special systems” governing pensions for millions will be done away with, replacing 42 different pension plans with one points-based system for all workers.

The overhaul has been a central goal of President Emmanuel Macron and Mr. Philippe, who have argued that getting the French to retire later and streamlining the pension system, one of the world’s costliest and most generous, are needed steps to put the system on a sounder financial footing.

“We’re proposing a new pact between the generations, one faithful in spirit to that which the National Resistance Council put in place after the war,” he said. “It’s a profound reform of the rules, to correct injustices and to take into account the new realities.”

Mr. Philippe made concessions on the start date of the changes, which would go into effect in 2022. For people born from 1975 to 2004, only the years they work after 2025 would be affected, he said.

It seemed unlikely that this would be enough to quell union anger, and the immediate reaction from organized labor was bad news for the government. The moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labor, the country’s largest union, whose support Mr. Macron needs, said it was disappointed.

The union’s chief, Laurent Berger, said that “a red line has been crossed” with Mr. Philippe’s vow to push the French toward a retirement age of 64.

The government is determined to streamline the French pensions system, one of the world’s costliest and most generous.

In the short run, Mr. Philippe needed to address several critical issues to have any hope of calming the unions and ending the transit strike: precisely when the pension overhaul would begin, whether there would be a transition period for the myriad “special systems” tailored to individual professions, and how the government would protect the value of the “points” earned during a working life.

Mr. Macron wants to unify the system and do away with the special pensions systems that date back decades or even centuries in a few cases. He would give all workers points correlated to the number of years they work, and people would cash them in upon retirement.

The hardest-line unions — like the leftist General Confederation of Labor, which has spearheaded the demonstrations and strikes — want the government to withdraw the whole project. Others, like the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, are not opposed to an overhaul in principle, but are suspicious of the government’s plans and want guarantees that nobody will lose out.

Mr. Philippe warned his parliamentary representatives Tuesday that he would not be waving any “magic wand” to end the strikes that are interrupting services across France. And the disruption for commuters continued on Wednesday with most subway lines in Paris still shut, and most medium- and long-distance trains canceled.

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.

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