French PM says pension age hike ‘non-negotiable’ as strikes loom


France’s prime minister has ruled out backtracking on a plan to raise the retirement age as unions prepared for another day of mass protests and strikes against the contested reform.

An increase in the minimum retirement age to 64 from the current 62 is part of a flagship reform package pushed by President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the future financing of France’s pensions system.

After union protests against the change brought out more than a million people into the streets across France on Jan. 19, the government signaled there was wiggle room on some measures.

They included special deals for people who started working very young, and provisions for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children and for people who invested in further education.

But the headline age limit of 64 is not up for discussion, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Jan. 29.

“This is now non-negotiable,” she told the FranceInfo broadcaster.

While unions have welcomed the government’s readiness for negotiation on parts of the plan, they say the proposed 64-year rule has to go.

Calling the reform “unfair,” France’s eight major unions, in a rare show of unity, said they hoped to “mobilize even more massively” today, their next scheduled protest day, than at the Jan. 19 rallies.

On that occasion, the government put the turnout at 1.1 million; the unions said more than 2 million.

“It’s looking like there will be even more people,” said Celine Verzeletti, member of the hard-left union CGT’s confederation leadership.

Pointing to opinion polls, Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said “the people disagree strongly with the project, and that view is gaining ground.”

It would be “a mistake” for the government to ignore the mobilization, he warned.

Communist party leader Fabien Roussel called Borne’s remark “a provocation,” saying the prime minister was “blinkered” and her government “inflexible.”

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, repeated her opposition to the government’s “unjust and brutal” plans.__Daily Hurriyet