Want to support Global Action on Aging?
French Cabinet Approves Pension Reform Plan
Face of Strike Threats ,
,San Francisco Chronicle
May 28, 2003
Defying the threat of massive strikes, the French Cabinet approved a
pension reform package Wednesday that requires people to work more years
Transportation, education and
other unions have been fighting hard against the proposal, which they say
will open the door to an eventual gutting of France's pension system.
The center-right government of
President Jacques Chirac insists that reform of the system is needed to
save it from financial collapse as French society ages.
The package now moves to
parliament, and the government is pushing for approval before the summer
"It was the responsibility
of the government to act, and act without delay, to avoid having to take
more brutal measures one day," Chirac said, calling the reforms
"urgent" and just.
The reform plan would extend by
2008 the span that government employees must work for a full pension from
37.5 years to 40 years. That time would go up to 41 years in 2012 and 41
years, 9 months in 2020.
Private sector employees
already have to work 40 years before they are eligible for full pensions.
The government says the steps
are needed because the number of retirees is increasing faster than the
number of workers who pay into the pension system. Without changes,
officials say the system will hit serious trouble in 20 years.
Unions say they don't oppose
adjusting the pension system to save it, but they complain changes are
being made at their expense and they have planned massive actions against
Following up on strikes that
paralyzed transport earlier this month, subway workers announced an
"unlimited" strike to start Monday.
Some 300,000 protesters marched
against the plan in Paris on Sunday -- the largest demonstration against
the year-old government of Chirac's hand-picked prime minister,
A strike against the reform
plan by air traffic controllers on Tuesday crippled flights in France,
reducing air traffic to about 20 percent of normal.
Teachers have also been on the
forefront of the fight. Education unions announced they would go back on
strike nationwide next Tuesday to protest the plan, in addition to other
government proposals to trim the number of teacher assistants.
Even high culture is not above
the fray. The Picasso Museum and the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris
were closed Wednesday. The Musee d'Orsay operated with fewer staff members
but kept its doors open.
The government has tried to
please some unions with concessions over the past few weeks, such as
allowing workers who started on the job in their mid-teens to retire
The education strikes have also
drawn fire by threatening France's all-important baccalaureate
examinations, which are key to determining students' university and job
Christian Janet, the president
of the Federation of Parents of Public School Students, said that any
disruption of the exams would be "inadmissible."
"It's absolutely scandalous. It goes against the very mission of education," he told Europe-1 radio.