pension protests france

Written by Maryam Jilani 9:00 pm Articles, Current Affairs, Published Content

The Pension Fiasco in France and the UK

President Macron’s decision to bring pension reforms in France has been met with displeasure from the citizens who find the increase in the legal retirement age—from 62 to 64—particularly concerning. Such resistance, in Maryam Jilani’s opinion, is in sharp contrast to the UK’s silent submission of the discriminatory gender pension gap. The French labor strikes are effectively mobilizing citizens thus showing the strength and hold of the unions.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms Maryam Jilani is a student of Sociology who passionately believes in the advocacy of human rights and women empowerment.

UK and France: Countries in Europe

The United Kingdom is an island nation off the coast of Europe’s northwest. London, the nation’s capital, is one of the top cities for business, finance, and culture in the globe. Moreover, it has significantly influenced the global economy, particularly in the fields of technology and production.

France, on the other hand, is a nation in northwest Europe. It is one of the most influential countries in Western history and culture, having had former colonies all over the world. With the Atlantic and Mediterranean Seas, the Alps, and the Pyrenees as its borders, France has long served as a physical, linguistic, and financial link between northern and southern Europe. It is one of the top manufacturing nations on earth and the largest agricultural producer in Europe.

A Look at UK and France’s Recent Workforce

In the three months leading up to January 2023, there were over 32.8 million working persons in the UK, somewhat more than during the corresponding time in 2022. The average yearly wage for full-time workers in the UK in 2022 was about 33,000 pounds, with men between the ages of 40 and 49 making the most money working full-time.

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In conclusion, males of all ages continuously made more money each year than their female counterparts. The biggest disparity was seen in older age groups, where women in their 50s made about 30,603 pounds a year, while males made about 37,877 pounds.

For women and men in France, the life expectancy at birth is 85.1 and 79.1 years respectively. The economic stimulus initiatives allowed a robust recovery after 2020, which was marked by an exceptional crisis (COVID-19) and a decline in hiring as a consequence.

Furthermore, the gross domestic product increased by 7.0% in 2021, whereas, in the 4th quarter of 2021, the unemployment rate was 7.4%, which was a 0.7-point decline from the previous year and  27,728,000 persons were employed. The job market for those between the ages of 15 and 64 was 67.3% in this same year which was the highest level since 1975.

Pension Gap in the UK

There is still a startling difference in pensions between men and women in modern-day Britain. Women continue to be the underdogs when it comes to having financial stability in old age. According to official data, single women make up the majority of the UK’s poorest seniors. The gender pension disparity occurs in many other nations as well, therefore it won’t be readily fixed.

Those with little to no private pension savings, however, are at a significant disadvantage in retirement due to the UK’s extremely low level of state pension coverage. The fact that women have fewer lifetime incomes is one of the main causes of the gender pension gap.

They are more likely than men to work part-time or in positions with lower incomes on average, or to work a second job and retire early; typically earning less than men throughout an average working life due to caring duties which extend to even adulthood, after their child-rearing years. This puts their retirement savings at risk as they receive lower pensions because pension funds are based on their earnings.

Their income ability and pension chances continue to be seriously hampered by the inadequate care systems in the country, which apply to both youngsters and senior citizens. Many people provide unpaid care for loved ones, yet this reduces their availability for paid employment. Based on recent ONS data, the number of women quitting their jobs to care for their families has increased by 3% in the last year.

Without significant adjustments, these issues will only get worse as the population ages. The groundbreaking workplace pension auto-enrolment program, which puts many women in danger of lesser pensions than men, is likewise entrenched with the gender pensions disparity. The only people who qualify to be enrolled as a matter of course are those who make more than £10,000 per year in any one job. Hence the total absence of those with several occupations that each pay less than £10,000 is thought to affect increasingly 3 million women.

Another issue for low-paid women is that many workplace pension plans require those making just under £12,570 annually to pay 25% more for their pensions, which could lead to more people choosing to forgo retirement entirely. This issue affects well over a million women, and even though the Treasury has vowed to right the wrong, it won’t happen until 2025.

Furthermore, women who divorce may also suffer later in life. The government was credited with the brilliant notion of allowing divorced women to share their ex’s pension. However, when a partner doesn’t accurately disclose the correct worth of their pension, many divorced women miss out greatly due to a lack of financial literacy and inadequate safeguards. The wife may be severely underpaid if she cannot access competent legal representation or just believes that the value provided by her husband is accurate.

Women are missing out disproportionately on both private and state pensions, which is even more concerning. Even the newly created state pension, which was introduced in 2016, shows women losing out after decades of injustice in the public insurance system. This is surprising considering that the new system is designed to provide a flat-rate state pension without any components based on wages.

According to the full state pension amount (although it has decreased from £30 per week), women are still expected to have pensions that are around £10 per week below that of men. It is predicted that the gap won’t close until the 2040s. The old system’s remnants play a role in this, but there are also aspects of the standard requirements that disfavor women. For instance, the child benefit means test mandates that women file for the benefit even if they are aware they will not receive any, lest they lose their score for their government pension.

Pension Reform Legislation: Protests on the Streets of France

Among the major European economies, France has the lowest eligibility age for a government pension and spends a lot of money maintaining the system. Emmanuel Macron’s proposals to extend the retirement age in France from 62 to 64, which will result in making some government workers lose their privileges, and the period of work years necessary to be eligible for a full pension to increase, have resulted in numerous pension protests.

The opposition movement has lasted over two months and is historically sizable even by French measures. It is estimated that 1.28 million people took to the streets on 14 March 2023. The measure is seen as a violation of the social compact by many in the streets since French workers pay a significant portion of their salaries over the period they are employed to fund a reasonably decent and efficient retirement system.

By raising the qualifying floor, benefits will be reduced, which will disproportionately impact the poorest people. Nevertheless, given that the administration has been oblivious to those voices for weeks on end, unions claim they are left with no choice but to step up the campaign. They have switched from a plan developed around single-day protests to one that combines more disruptive, wide strikes in advance of final votes on the pension legislation in the Senate and National Assembly of France. Even though it will be difficult, if properly applied, the strategy could be successful.

The disruptions may make it more difficult to pass legislation because President Macron lacks an absolute majority in the National Assembly and depends on support from the right-wing Les Républicains. The plan of the unions is as follows: they concentrate on work stoppages at control points like public transportation, garbage pickup, ports, and refineries where they feel they can organize members. These strikes cause oversized interruptions for businesses and the general public alike.

Strikes like these have a significant chance of alienating prospective supporters under normal conditions, but these are not usual conditions. In one poll, about seven out of ten respondents said they opposed the pension change, while 56% said they would support an ongoing strike to stop the legislation.

The regional train system is a key component of the union plan since it has historically been a hub for worker rebellion. The “renewable strike” was approved by train unions giving employees the legal right to continue being on the job until they choose otherwise. The conditions are right for this trend to continue.

Rail workers have been joined by dock workers at the major ports, from the Channel to the Mediterranean, trash collectors in Paris, truck drivers purposefully decelerating down traffic or obstructing highways, and workers at power companies who have pushed the law’s boundaries to impose headline-grabbing power outages, directly attacking everything from an Amazon warehouse to the New York Stock Exchange.

Since Macron was unsure of the support of enough parliamentarians, he made a sudden, last-minute decision to deploy special constitutional powers to push the measures through without a vote on 16 March 2023. Article 49.3 of the constitution gave the executive special authority to ignore parliamentarians. The exercise of extraordinary powers highlights Macron’s challenging parliamentary position.

The French Tradition of Protesting Pension Reforms
The French Tradition of Protesting Pension Reforms” by Statista is licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

As his centrist grouping failed to win an actual majority in the parliamentary elections last June amid big improvements for the far right and radical left, he was seriously undercut in the National Assembly. Without a plurality, the administration was forced to rely on Les Républicains lawmakers to support the pension reforms. The numbers, however, did not add up despite weeks of talks. Immediately after, hundreds of people spontaneously assembled in protest at the city’s Place de la Concorde as trade unions vowed to step up the strikes and pension protests that had been going on since January.

Philippe Martinez, the leader of the hardline CGT union, claimed that imposing the rule “shows disrespect toward the public.” On 16 March 2023, several demonstrators flung cobblestones as police arrested and used tear gas and water jet to try to disperse the throng. Moreover, there were unplanned demonstrations against the change in several other French cities, notably Marseille.

La Figaro reports that police have taken 120 persons into custody in Paris. In one encounter with protesters and rioters, a police officer allegedly suffered injuries. Many demonstrators set fires and damaged storefronts in side streets as the gathering dispersed, according to Agence France-Presse reporters. According to them, looting occurred during protests in Marseille, which is in the south of the nation.

Furthermore, conflicts between protestors and police personnel also broke out in Nantes, Rennes, and Lyon, which are in the southeast. On Thursday, March 23, French unions demanded yet another day of strikes and protests against the legislation.

France’s Resistance & the UK’s Passive Submission

Analyzing the situation of pensions in the UK, one could easily see a pattern of laws, procedures, and obscure pension planning schemes in the state as well as private workplaces, which works as a spider web trapping. Those who had known to suffer a wage gap during their working period would face even more troublesome circumstances later in their life when the amplified lack of funds, disrupted healthcare, degrading lifestyles, and increasing inflation would bring them into a cycle of tyranny.

In a country where they have contributed and have been a substantial part of the productive workforce, women’s conditions would nonetheless be cruel to their existence and survival. Even the laws and rules in women’s favor have loopholes and they could easily miss out on any given opportunity due to a lack of awareness and financial illiteracy. It seems obvious that it would be beneficial to lower the auto-enrolment levels to include anyone making less than £10,000.

There must be a strengthening of the protection of women’s pensions following divorce and enhancing workplace financial knowledge to assist women in understanding pensions. Another radical reform might look at ways to support women and their spouses’ pension payments during the years they are caring for others, as well as ways to encourage stay-at-home mothers to ask their spouses for pension contributions on their behalf.

In the case of France, it has a pension system that is cherished for what parliamentarians refer to as “solidarity between the generations” – where the workforce pays statutory payroll levies to finance those in retirement. This is in contrast to the market-led system of the UK. A state pension is provided to all French employees. The historic, massive demonstrations, opposition, and resistance on the streets of France are not a mere pass time for people but in fact, a true reflection of their misery and a reaction to the drastically poorly calculated measure.

The people who work most of their lives and have a hard time surviving and making it past each day have a clear stance and are not ready to let go of their rights. However, the power of French unions is likewise not as homogeneous as foreigners may believe. The grève par procuration, or “proxy strike,” theory was put forward by a pollster and a sociologist in response to the 1995 French strike wave, which was also related to pension reform. This theory postulates that some employees participated in the strike as representatives of supporters who lacks the resources or militant mindset to participate themselves.

The concept was appealing to trade unionists who were concerned about their waning power, but it has subsequently been used as a justification for their inability to attract and motivate the rank-and-file. Why mobilize if you can just rely on the well-known bulwarks of union power to carry the load? Although few openly support the proxy strike as a tactic, the underlying reasoning is still prevalent in some parts of the labor movement.

Riot police were present in Paris, France on Saturday amid pension protests against raising the retirement age. There are several important businesses, ranging from aviation to logistics, where unions have failed to turn out in force, despite all the areas of the economy where they are flexing their muscles. Wide strikes among teachers have been resisted, despite their clear disruptive potential.

If French unions are successful in unseating Macron, it will be a tremendous win. But they have already exceeded all expectations in numerous ways. By forging national integration, they have demonstrated that they can still credibly assert their right to speak for the nation’s working class, adding tens of thousands of supporters in the process.

Also, they have highlighted those who oppose the president’s agenda. Therefore it could be concluded that the socioeconomic and political climate of the UK and France vary drastically; the narrative of pension in the UK is dominated by passive submission in contrast to France’s disapproval, mass mobilization, and resistance.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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