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French govt to postpone pension reform talks until 2021- union

Paris, France: Negotiations between the French government and unions over controversial reform to the pensions system will be postponed until 2021 to focus on economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the prime minister said on Friday.

The reform, pushed by President Emmanuel Macron and the single greatest revamp of the pension system since World War Two, was halted in its tracks in February by the pandemic. The proposal angered unions and brought thousands of people onto the streets at the turn of the year. The decision to push it back aims in part to ease those tensions as France grapples with the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said the reform, which includes raising the retirement age by two years to 64, would not be scrapped. A deferment until after the 2022 presidential elections might defuse union and voter concerns but would undermine Macron's already-weakened credibility as a reformer. "I think it's extremely important in the quite exceptional circumstances in which our country finds itself, and which you are aware of, a health crisis that is not over, an economic crisis that has taken hold, it's very important to show the French people that dialogue exists, that it is by gathering around the table, by listening to each other, by respecting each other that we can hope to find collective understanding and an answer to the crisis." said Jean Castex.

The reform is central to Macron's ambition of creating a more flexible and competitive labour force. But trade unions argue that it will erode hard-earned benefits and leave pensioners worse off. 

"This corresponds to our desire to not make the pension reform a matter for the summer and the autumn, and rather to give ourselves time understand it and first see how we could be capable of responding to the fight against unemployment, the creation and retention of jobs, the fight against rising poverty and, most of all, making young people the priority." said Lurent Berger, Head of CFDT labour union.

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