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Angry French professionals march against Macron's pension reform

French High Commissioner for Pension Reform, Jean-Paul Delevoye, in Bordeaux at a gathering of the ruling La Republique en Marche in Bordeaux.
French High Commissioner for Pension Reform, Jean-Paul Delevoye, in Bordeaux at a gathering of the ruling La Republique en Marche in Bordeaux. (GEORGES GOBET / AFP)

Lawyers, nurses, doctors, airline pilots are among many professionals are striking in Paris to protest the government’s pension reforms. Their different pension schemes total over ten billion euros – and they do not want to see it absorbed by the standardised system the government is proposing.

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After last week's mass public transport strike, on Monday over 700,000 skilled workers from 14 different fields are expected to be absent. It’s the first time professionals, from nurses to airline pilots, will march together under the same banner, “SOS retraites”, to defend their own specific pension plans.

“It’s a hold up,” exclaims Jean-Paul Hamon, the president of the Federation of Doctors in France. “They want to grab what we saved.

“It is not a strike of the rich. We work on average 60 hours per week. The nurses, who have a tough job and earn a low salary, will have to contribute more towards their retirement – only to earn a pension of 900 euros per month. That’s enough to make us very angry.”

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Hamon says French doctors have collectively increased their contributions since 1999, which enabled them, today, to reach pension funds amounting to seven billion euros.

The government’s reform would not only further reduce the number of French general practitioners, it would also mean less doctors willing to adhere to the social security system (known as "conventionné), according to Hamon. If doctors don’t do so, it means that social security won't reimburse their patients.

France’s pension reform

The government pension reforms aims to simplify the current system, with a standardised pension plan rather than the current version, which has 42 different schemes.

"We're going to construct a truly universal system where every euro paid in will provide the same rights for everyone, whether a labourer, a shop owner, a researcher, a farmer, a civil servant, a doctor or an entrepreneur," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a speech on Thursday.

The move to a universal points-based pension system will effectively wipe out the more advantageous pensions for a wide range of professions.

Jean-Paul Delevoye, who is leading the reform project, also proposed making a full pension available from the age of 64. People who retire earlier would have to accept a lower pension: five percent less for someone who stops working at 63, for example.

Unprecedented lawyers strike

The Chairperson of the Paris Bar, Christiane Feral-Schuhl, said that it is unprecedented for such a larger number of lawyers to mobilise for today’s strike. Half of France's 700,000 lawyers work in and around Paris.

Like doctors, lawyers fear that their pension fund of around 2 billion euros will disappear under the government’s new system.

Lawyer Xavier Autain, a member of the umbrella SOS Retraite protest group, told RFI that his colleagues contribute some 80 to 90 million euros to the general pension plan for the rest of the population.

“We don’t understand why the government wants to switch us over to a general pension plan. Ours has been in existence since 1954 and we’ve managed it well with contributions which are higher than those set up under the general pension plan,” he says.

Airline pilots feel the same. Yves Deshayes, chairman of the National Trade Union of Airline Pilots, said that they do not wish their contributions to be absorbed by a standardised pension plan.

“We’ve saved up to 5 billion euros. We want these funds to benefit the people who contributed towards it.”

The SOS Retraite march begins at 1 PM Paris time (1100 GMT), from Opera to Nation.

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