French trade union leaders have walked out of talks with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne after failing to find a compromise on the contentious plan to raise the country’s legal retirement age from 62 to 64 years.
The heads of France’s major unions, who want the withdrawal of the pension plan, met with Borne on Wednesday, a day before the planned 11th round of nationwide strikes and protests since January.
A giant banner emblazoned with the words: “64, it’s no” was displayed by unionists on the top of the Arc de Triomphe monument soon after the meeting broke up.
They removed it after police arrived at the landmark.
“We have chosen to end that useless meeting,” the head of the CGT union, Sophie Binet, told reporters. “We have found in front of us a radicalised, stubborn, disconnected government. It’s a slap in the face of the millions of French who take to the streets.”
The secretary general of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, denounced what he called “a serious democratic crisis.”
“The public opinion is increasingly against this reform since January,” he said. He called for a “maximum of workers to get mobilised” and “join the marches” staged across the country Thursday.
Negotiations at deadlock
Borne was adamant about the necessity of the planned reform. “I told them again I am convinced… of the need for a reform,” she said.
“I think it was important in the moment our country is going through to be able to talk with each other. That’s what we were able to do,” she added.
The government argues that reform is needed to make the French pension system financially sustainable in the coming years as France’s population ages.
Unions say other options are possible, like making companies and the wealthy pay more to finance the pension system.
The reform also would require 43 years of work to earn a full pension at 64, otherwise, workers would still have to wait until they turn 67. Opinion polls show a large majority of French people are against the changes.
Opponents have been further angered by President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to stand strong on the retirement bill that his government forced through parliament without a vote.
The bill is now being examined by the Constitutional Council, which is expected to say on April 14 whether it approves full or parts of the text — the last step before the law can enter into force.