France

Workers will no longer retire at 60, says government

Employment Minister Eric Woerth tells journalists about the government's controversial plans to reform the pension system.
Employment Minister Eric Woerth tells journalists about the government's controversial plans to reform the pension system. Reuters
3 min

The French government is to raise the legal retirement age, Employment Minister Eric Woerth said on Wednesday, confirming unions’ fears that workers will no longer be able to start claiming a full state pension at 60. The measure is a “logical option” as France faces up to an ageing population and mounting public deficit, Woerth told the LCI television channel.

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The government has not yet reached a decision what the new age limit should be, according to the minister.

“It’s not the legal age [of retirement] that’s symbolic,” Woerth said. “What’s symbolic is our pension system based on repartition … We shouldn’t mistake what’s a taboo and what isn’t.”

He stressed that the planned reforms would not affect the 500,000 workers eligible for early retirement under France’s special pension plan, reserved for employees of selected state-controlled corporations such as the SNCF and RATP rail companies.

The government is expected to present its official proposals on pension reform at the end of June. A bill will be drawn up by July, and adopted – if approved – in the autumn.

France reduced the minimum retirement age from 65 to 60 in 1984, under François Mitterand’s Socialist government.

Current President Nicolas Sarkozy is said to be highly critical of the decision.

“Between that and the 35-hour working week, we’d have far fewer problems if [Mitterand] hadn’t changed things,” Sarkozy is reported to have told members of his UMP party at a meeting on Tuesday, according to one unnamed deputy who was there.

“The French are moaners, sometimes grouches. But at the same time they are also lucid, intelligent and responsible, and they’ll be able to see that there’s no alternative to our reforms,” the president is supposed to have said.

Retirement at 60 remains sacred to Sarkozy’s opponents on the left, who have greeted the debate on pension reform with anger.

Sarkozy’s reported comments are “not worthy of a president of the French Republic”, retorted the head of the Socialist party, Martine Aubry.

Her party will repeal the reforms if its candidate wins the 2012 presidential elections, she told reporters on Wednesday.

The majority of the public is opposed to the proposed changes too, according a survey published in business newspaper Les Echos. 53 per cent of those asked said there was no need to push back the retirement age.

Trade unions are planning a day of strikes on Thursday in protest at the planned reforms.

France’s pension debate comes as many of its European neighbours ban early retirement in an attempt to tackle budget deficits.

Greece wants to raise its average retirement age from 61 to 63 by the year 2015, while Germany plans to make 67 its minimum retirement age by 2029.

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