Macron vs. people: why France resists presidential pension reform

Major strikes have taken place in France after the government announced plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

President Emmanuel Macron argues that changes are needed to make the pension system financially viable as people live longer.

In most EU countries, where citizens are expected to work after age 64, many have difficulty understanding the protests.

Our reporter Monica Pinna spoke to activists and experts to give you a clearer picture.

Increasing inequality

The main criticism of the reform is that it penalizes those who work hard physical labor as it will make it harder for them to work longer hours.

Those who do manual labor also tend to have lower incomes, which is associated with lower life expectancy. This means that if a worker retires at age 64, they will potentially have fewer years to enjoy retirement in good health.

At a rally in Lyon, Monica meets 60-year-old courier driver Salim Wage.

“The pace is picking up,” he tells us, “but our bodies can’t keep up with it. That’s why it’s hard to work until you’re 60.”

He adds, “We are being asked not to enjoy our families. […] There is nothing human in their calculations.”

Will women lose?

Women also argue that they will be disproportionately affected as many have career interruptions due to children. This is often followed by part-time work, which means it may take longer for women to reach the required number of pension contributions.

The Macron government claims that their reform will reduce existing inequalities by raising the minimum pension rate. His critics say it’s unclear who will be eligible.

Under current rules, French women’s pensions are already 40% lower than men’s, as wage inequality has an indirect effect on retirement.

Other ways to reform?

Monica travels to Paris to speak with Bruno Palier, an expert on pension systems at the Faculty of Political Science.

Bruno explains why some in Europe may not understand the anger in France.

“A Swede or a German might say, ‘They never work, they work 35 hours a week.’ […] But what actually happens is workload compaction. That means fewer years on the job, fewer people working, and as a result, those who are working have to work harder.”

He suggests that instead of raising the retirement age, Macron could balance the books by increasing the amount of social security contributions.

“But obviously the government doesn’t want to do that,” he adds. “It’s taboo.”

For now, the struggle continues as unions plan strikes throughout March.