France braced for strikes over plan to raise retirement age

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The Independent Online

The French government faces a storm of strikes and protests, starting next week, after proposing that the country's retirement age should be raised from 60 to 62 by 2018.

Wealthy people and civil servants would also pay higher pensions contributions under plans published yesterday to plug an anticipated €40bn (£33bn) hole in the state retirement fund within the next eight years.

The proposals break two campaign pledges made by President Nicolas Sarkozy: that the retirement age would remain at 60; and that wealthy people would not pay more than 50 per cent of their income in levies and taxes.

The government insisted, however, that radical reform was needed to save the French national pensions' system and to reduce the budget deficit, which stands at a record eight per cent of GDP this year. By lifting the retirement age by four months a year, starting in July 2011, the proposed reforms would knock almost two per cent off the French deficit by 2020, the government said.

In the absence of other radical cuts in public spending, Paris hopes that the pension reform will reassure financial markets on the scale of French deficits and accumulated debt. Trades unions federations and left-wing parties said that the raising of the retirement age was profoundly unjust. It would fall hardest on manual workers who entered the labour force earliest and would mean that some people with broken social security contributions – such as mothers – would have to wait until they were 67 for the full state pension.

Unions have called a day of strikes and marches next Thursday, following protests in many French cities on Tuesday.

However, the full heat of social protest is unlikely to fall on the government before the traditional marching and striking season in September and October.

Under the proposals announced yesterday, anyone born up to July 1951 would retain their right to retire at 60. Afterwards the retirement age would advance by four months a year until 2018 when it would be frozen at the age of 62.

The length of contributions for full pension rights would increase. Civil servants, who pay less at present, would make the same pensions payments as private sector employees. Special pension levies would be placed on the wealthy and on capitals gains.