French unions fight for early retirement has as

French trade unions yesterday accused the government and employers of hypocrisy after a succession of senior politicians warned that reducing the retirement age to 55 was out of the question. So many people in their 50s were being given early retirement to suit state employers and big business, the unions said, that there was no reason not to introduce retirement at 55 for all.

The demand for earlier retirement is part of a trade union campaign for improved social benefits which, they argue, could also increase the number of jobs for young people. Despite a multiplicity of government schemes, France's unemployment rate, at 12.7 per cent, remains one of the highest in Europe, and one in four people under 25 has no job.

In what was seen by many as the thin end of a very big wedge, French lorry drivers won the possibility of retiring at the age of 55 from their two-week strike last year. Now the unions are seeking to build on this victory, encouraged by public concern in France about the unemployment level and unalloyed enthusiasm for the idea of a longer retirement.

At the end of last week, five unions called a national transport strike for 24 January in support of a demand for retirement at 55 for all transport workers. Train drivers already enjoy this condition; according to the strike settlement reached in December, lorry drivers will qualify for it after 20 years on the road. So it is local transport workers, including bus, tram and metro drivers, who are expected to spearhead the strike.

Although there were several local transport strikes through the autumn and most had only a limited impact, the government decided this time to take the initiative. Over the weekend, it launched a barrage of public statements rejecting the idea of retirement at 55 for all.

President Jacques Chirac himself released the first volley, telling an audience in his local region of Correze that, while he understood the popular desire to retire earlier, "France cannot ignore economic and demographic realities". Two former Prime Ministers then weighed in, Edouard Balladur and Raymond Barre, who said the claim was "a very dangerous trend for the future" and urged the government "to hold the line".

The current Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, said that retirement at 55 was "not possible financially" and that there was "no question of the government bending". Only those who worked more than 39 hours a week, he said, could have any claim to retire at 55.

Even the opposition Socialists and left-of-centre press seemed scared that retirement at 55 could become a popular rallying cry. The newspaper Liberation called it a "simpleton's utopia", while several MPs not known as moderates warned that retirement at 55 could "not become a general rule".

Behind the politicians' statements lies the recognition that France's state pension system is in enough difficulty already without a new increase in the number of pensioners. Currently, employees' contributions are used to pay directly for the pensions of those already retired and several sectors are running short of money. A system of pension funds, and the possibility of private top-up pensions, is to be introduced, but there is a deep public suspicion of any change.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'