FRANCE – NEWS
Hundreds of thousands of people across France took part in the fourth round of national demonstrations on Saturday 11 February against a pension reform to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. More than 960,000 people took to the streets of Paris, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and other cities across the country.
The protesters hope to put pressure on the government to back down from the planned innovations. In the French capital, authorities counted some 93,000 participants, a record high number of demonstrators in Paris since the protests began.
I don't want my parents to die at work
The weekend demonstrations attracted young people and other opponents of the pension changes who had been unable to participate in the previous three days of weekday actions.
“We often hear that we are too young to worry about this, but because with inflation rising, electricity prices rising, this reform will affect our families,” said 18-year-old Elisa Haddad. “This is my first demonstration because I couldn’t attend because of my university studies. It is important that the voice of parents and students (in France) is heard.”
Saturday’s protests were accompanied by outbreaks of riots. Protesters set fire to a car and several rubbish bins on a central Paris boulevard. Eight people were arrested for various violations, according to Paris police reports.
Some demonstrators marched by their families through the Place de la République in Paris and carried emotional banners. “I don’t want my parents to die at work,” read one of the banners held by a teenager.
What does the reform envisage?
Despite national discontent, the government insists on passing a pension reform, which is one of President Emmanuel Macron’s election promises.
In addition to raising the retirement age, the reform calls for an increase in the minimum duration of employees’ contributions to the pension fund to 43 years. At the same time, the government promises to increase the minimum pension to €1,200 per month.
According to the Labour Ministry, the adoption of the reform would bring the country an extra 17.7 billion euros in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027.
Trade unions warn of a work stoppage in the country
The unions issued a joint statement calling the government “deaf” and demanding that French officials repeal the bill. If their demands are not met, the unions have threatened to trigger a nationwide “shutdown” from 7 March. The next round of protests is scheduled for 16 February.
The protests are a crucial test for both Macron and his opponents. The government insists it intends to follow through on Macron’s campaign promise to reform France’s generous pension system.
The president called the reforms “indispensable” to ensure the long-term survival of the country’s pension system and noted that workers in neighbouring countries are retiring several years later.
Despite growing public discontent and his own declining popularity, Macron insists he is fulfilling a key promise he made during his April 2022 election campaign.
His government now faces a tough political battle in parliament, which could last for weeks or months.