With mass protests against Emmanuel Macron's pension reform plan entering their seventh day, French workers and unions signaled that they are not ready to back down in their efforts to have the new scheme completely scrapped.
In a much-anticipated speech on Wednesday, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe resisted protesters' demands and said he was "totally determined" to implement the "fair" plan which would replace a fragmented, but generous, system of more than 42 separate state pensions with a new universal points-based scheme.
What's in the plan?
Philippe said the proposal would give every pensioner the same rights for each euro contributed and would allow workers to move freely from one job into another - a reflection of a changing labor market and a ‘gig economy' that sees workers hop around, rather than sticking with one job for most of their lives.
The legal pension age would remain at 62 years, but those who retire at that age would receive smaller pensions than those who continue working for longer. A minimum pension would be set at €1,000 and people employed in dangerous and particularly difficult jobs like firemen, police, or night nurses will be able to retire two years earlier.
The scheme would not affect people born before 1975 and will be fully applied to those entering the labor market from 2022 onwards.
While the specifics of Macron's plan might sound good in comparison to less socially progressive nations (in Britain, for example, the retirement age is set to rise to 67), French workers and unions aren't buying it.
Worker and union complaints
Demonstrators say the universal scheme encourages people to work longer and for less money, since employees will need to work to the age of 64 to draw the full pension. Those most strongly opposed to the proposed system are workers who currently receive special benefits, including rail workers and dockers, who are entitled to retire on a full pension at 62, as things currently stand.
While Philippe did offer some flexibility on the timing of implementation, unions didn't respond positively and showed no interest in giving up their fight.
"We are not happy at all with the government's announcement. It is a joke and in particular it makes a mockery of those who are fighting today," said Philippe Martinez, who heads the hardline CGT Union. The more moderate CFDT union wasn't happy either, with its head Laurent Berger saying Macron's government crossed a "red line" by proposing to incentivize people to delay their retirement.
The reform plans sparked a week of major strikes by public sector workers that paralyzed France's transport network and even saw schools closed and flights canceled. In some cities, protests escalated into scuffles between demonstrators and police. In Lyon, police deployed tear gas in an effort to disperse people.
The CGT Union said about 1.5 million people marched against the reforms on December 5, while the Interior Ministry put the number at around 700,000. Whatever the exact number, those figures dwarf the numbers still showing up for the broader weekly Yellow Vest demonstrations against Macron's government that have been going on for the past year.
The pension protests have been particularly worrying for Macron, however, because the anger against the plan has united and mobilized people of all ages and professional categories, from teachers to hospital staff and transport workers.
"The government made a big mistake when it took on pensions, because everyone retires some day. So Macron attacked all socio-economic categories," one 17-year-old protester told the Irish Times.
The CGT union is calling for further protests to take place on December 12 and 17. "All conditions are in place to harden strikes against pension reform," a CGT official told Reuters.