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France retreats on early retirement for workers in tough jobs

French Prime minister Manuel Valls, in a ministerial meeting to prepare the Social Summit in Paris July 2, 2014.
French Prime minister Manuel Valls, in a ministerial meeting to prepare the Social Summit in Paris July 2, 2014. REUTERS/Alain Jocard

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls ceded ground to employers on Wednesday in a spat with unions over a new system to compensate workers in physically demanding jobs. The measures have been delayed until 2016 and come after business leaders threatened to boycott an upcoming labour summit. 

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The so-called hardship accounts were due to come into effect in January 2015 and have now been pushed back until 2016. This, after they were criticised by the Medef employer union for being too costly.

But trade unions have called the delay "a breakdown in social dialogue." They say the government has sided with big business, after managers threatened to boycott next week's social summit.

During the conference, unions and employers will hash out their differences over plans to make the country's labour market more competitive.

However, the head of the CFDT union Laurent Berger, said on Wednesday, "the Prime Minister has caved in to pressure from the Medef, which does not care about workers' rights."

Under the new point-system, workers in strenuous jobs acquire a number of points, which allow them to claim extra job training or be entitled to early retirement.

There are four criteria for them to qualify:

  • They have to work nights
  • In routine work
  • In a constantly changing environment
  • Work under pressure

But the French Prime minister admitted the measures would be difficult to put in place.

Taking his defence, Minister of Health and Social affairs Marisol Touraine, insisted the government was "not backing down on a major social achievement."

On Wednesday, she said the number of points for workers in strenuous jobs will be more than doubled, and that they could start acquiring points as soon as they hit 58.

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