French PM Philippe offers concession to unions over pension reform

Protesters light flares during a demonstration in Paris, on Jan 11, 2020, as part as a nationwide multi-sector strike against the French government's pensions overhaul.
Protesters light flares during a demonstration in Paris, on Jan 11, 2020, as part as a nationwide multi-sector strike against the French government's pensions overhaul.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe offered a major concession to unions contesting his government's overhaul of the pension system on Saturday (Jan 11), in a move aimed at ending strikes which are now in their fifth week.

Philippe said in a letter to unions and employers that he was prepared to withdraw plans to raise the retirement age for full pension benefits by two years to 64 if certain conditions are met.

He offered the concession after talks between the government and trade unions failed on Friday to break the deadlock.

The reform-minded CFDT union, France's biggest, welcomed the move, saying in a statement that it showed "the government's will to find a compromise".

The concession comes as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through eastern Paris against the reform, which aims to replace France's myriad of sector-specific pension schemes with a single points-based scheme.

The protest turned violent on its fringes with police firing tear gas and charging groups smashing windows and lighting rubbish bins and billboards on fire.

The government's standoff with the unions is the biggest challenge yet of President Emmanuel Macron's will to reform the euro zone second-biggest economy.