The French government has presented a bill at the beginning of 2023 that delays the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 years and increases the duration of the contribution period necessary to obtain the full pension. This project immediately aroused strong opposition from the trade unions — united in a front of rejection for the first time in a long time — but also from more than 70% of the French population, which has come out five times in the streets in demonstrations that have always brought together more than a million people. Why this reaction? Are the French lazy? Irreducible Gauls opposed to any reform? The only ones in Europe who do not understand that the evolution of life expectancy implies constant setbacks in the retirement age? Nothing of that.
To begin with, the government has presented these measures appealing to its alleged justice, when it comes to prolonging the working life of so many people by two years, including those who were planning to retire imminently. And if the registry of justice was inopportune, it is because the lowering of the legal age is precisely one of the most unfair measures, since it forces those who started working early or have developed the most fragmented and interrupted careers (particularly women) to work much longer.
Then, like many Europeans, the French have endured three years of traumatic crises: health, geopolitical and ecological crises. Consequently, they do not understand why a pension reform must be tackled so harshly and with such haste when such measures require a shared diagnosis, negotiations and time, and when, furthermore, no urgency is in sight. The Retirement Guidance Council – the independent body in charge of analyzing the French pension system – has recalled in its latest report that there is no uncontrolled dynamic in retirement spending, that between 2032 and 2070, the item allocated to pensions will remain stable , or even decrease, despite the aging of the population and that “depending on political preferences, it is perfectly legitimate to argue that these levels are too high, or too little, and that it is necessary to implement, or not, a reform of the pension system”.
But perhaps the essential is not there. If this reform provokes such an explosive reaction, it is because it denies and reveals at the same time the serious employment crisis that France is suffering. For many people, the prospect of being forced to work longer causes great despair, since they simply cannot. That would lead them to spend two more years unemployed or receiving the minimum social benefit while they wait for retirement.
According to the survey “Working conditions” in France, half of the participating people associate work with discomfort. 44% do not feel capable of developing the same job until they are 60 years old. As for the latest edition of the Eurofound survey, carried out in 2021 among more than 70,000 workers from 36 European countries, it reveals the very poor position of France in Europe. The physical and mental tensions are stronger than in other places. France is distinguished by high levels of violence and discrimination at work, by low support from colleagues and by remuneration that is not considered commensurate with the efforts made: only 45% of French people consider themselves to be “well paid”. for the efforts they have made and the work they do”, against 68% of Germans and 58% of Europeans. In addition, France stands out for a larger proportion of a type of labor organization in which autonomy and participation are lower than in other places. Employees have very little influence over their own work and over company decisions. The quality of employment in France is one of the worst in Europe: almost 40% of the active find themselves in a “tense” employment situation, in which the demands are higher than the resources that would allow them to be met.
Therefore, it seems that it would have been much more reasonable for the President of the Republic and the French Government to have first faced the issue of the labor crisis and to have shown their willingness to deal with it in depth before proposing financial and accounting adjustments that would surely a trusting society would have accepted.