No sight of French deal on pensions as unions hold out


A lawyer faces a riot police officer during a demonstration in Rennes, western France, Thursday Jan. 9, 2020. French rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others joined the fourth nationwide day of protests and strikes on Thursday to denounce President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to overhaul the pension system. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

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The French government and labor unions appeared far from reaching any compromise deal Friday in talks over a planned pension overhaul, with strikes and protests grinding on.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe met all major unions and employers’ associations for negotiations that focused on two key issues: the retirement age and how to pay for the new pensions system.

Unions reject the government’s plan to raise the age for full pension eligibility from 62 to 64.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets nationwide on Thursday to denounce the government’s plans. Hard-left workers’ unions want the pensions overhaul plan to be scrapped entirely.

Philippe Martinez expressed his CGT union’s “disagreement” with the plan. “The more the government and the ministers in charge of it try to explain their bill, the less the French understand it, which is a serious problem,” he said.

The prime minister still hopes to find some compromise with some of the more moderate unions, which in his view would weaken the protest movement.

But the head of the reformist CFDT union, Laurent Berger, dashed any hopes for a quick solution following Friday’s talks, saying “we didn’t have the answers this evening.”

Philippe offered to pursue talks on the financing of the new pension system in the coming months.

Some unions are in favor of raising taxes on workers with high salaries to finance the new pension system. But employers’ organizations have said they are against that because it would harm the economy’s competitiveness.

French President Emmanuel Macron plans to formally present the bill on Jan. 24 ahead of a parliament debate to start in February.

The definitive vote on the reform is not expected before the summer, and the government says the plans can be modified until then.

New protests are planned for Saturday across the country and railway strikes are continuing, severely disrupting train traffic nationwide as well as the Paris metro system.

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