Macron accused of 'sacrificing a generation' as he's met with outrage for pension reform

The most recent major overhaul of the retirement system, in 2010 under conservative leader Nicolas Sarkozy, led to mass protests, some with more than one million people. Now, Mr Macron is facing backlash for his own reforms. “Why would we sacrifice new generations? Why should they be condemned to work until they’re 70?” Mr Martinez told the French news channel BFMTV. France’s leading labour unions have voiced concerns that the proposed changes will force people to work longer and reduce pensions.

The government, for its part, has sought to assuage fears over the potentially explosive reform plan that has already sparked nationwide protests and strikes.

Mr Macron withstood weekly “yellow vest” anti-government protests that petered out over the summer, but he is now mindful of simmering public anger over his reform agenda and eager to avoid further unrest on French streets.  

The young centrist’s move to modernise France’s convoluted retirement system is part of an election pledge to put the country on a solid financial footing. The system is widely expected to fall into deficit over the coming decade and the government is under pressure to make it more sustainable.

“What is clear is that I want to move towards a system that builds the future,” Mr Macron said last month.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, for his part, has insisted the reform would be fair for all retirees.

“We’re going to build a truly universal system whereby every euro paid in will provide the same rights for everyone, whether a labourer, a shop owner, a researcher, a farmer, a civil servant, a doctor or an entrepreneur,” he said.

In France private pension schemes are rare, which means that nearly everyone pays into a public system, albeit through 42 different contribution and benefit schemes that Mr Macron wants to replace with a single points-based scheme.

The age at which a person can start receiving a full pension is shaping up to be the main point of contention.

Mr Macron has promised not to touch the legal retirement age of 62 for most workers, but new conditions might in effect mean that those entering retirement in the future will have to work longer.

He has also said he preferred to focus on the duration of a person’s career in order to draw pension benefits, rather than the age at which they retire. But critics say this would punish those who start their careers in their mid 20s after long studies.

The average French pension this year stands at 1,400 euros per month (£1,205) once taxes are deducted, according to a government report.

The government has pledged to hold consultations with labour representatives while the bill is debated in parliament, with a vote expected next year.

France has seen two big public transport strikes in recent months by tram and train workers opposed to a reform they say will force them to work longer. Another massive transport strike is planned for December 5.

There have also been protests by lawyers, nurses, doctors and airline pilots.

Pension reforms by former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 and Jacques Chirac in 1995 ignited mass street protests and failed to plug repeated deficits, which the Macron government hopes to wipe out by 2025.