French Lawmakers Approve Public Worker Pension Reform

July 25, 2003 ( - In a major victory for the French government, lawmakers have given overwhelming approval to a pension-reform bill that would require government workers to stay on the job an additional two and a half years to earn full retirement benefits.

class=”times”> Under the bill, which had been widely expected to pass despite an often-bitter marathon debate, the conservative government would put civil servants more on par with private-sector workers as of 2008 – by requiring them to work 40 years before retiring with a fullpension, according to the Wall Street Journal.

class=”times”> The government says the measure is needed to keep thepensionsystem from going bankrupt. Besides extending working years, the measure removes a barrier between the public sector, which enjoys special privileges, and the private sector – a taboo in the past.

class=”times”> Public-sector workers now have to work 37.5 years to qualify for full benefits. The measure will require them to stay on the job 40 years, as in the private sector, by 2008. By 2012, everyone will have to work 41 years to receive fullretirementbenefits; by 2020, 42 years.

class=”times”> Passage by France’s two chambers of parliament, where the right has a wide majority, is a major political victory for Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who refused to back down despite sporadic but paralyzing transport strikes in May and June (See French Pension Reform Unrest Likely to Continue ).

class=”times”> Prior Attempts

class=”times”> An effort to make such changes in 1995 under then-Prime Minister Alain Juppe failed, and later governments sidestepped the issue despite concern over dwindlingretirementfunds.

class=”times”> President Jacques Chirac, who pressed for the reform, now has 15 days to sign off on it, a formality. “This isn’t the victory of one camp against another,” Raffarin said during a brief appearance in the lower house, the National Assembly, according to the Journal. The prime minister voiced concern over “scars left by our debate” and pledged the government would “do everything in its power to erase any bitterness.”

class=”times”> Earlier this month the Senate approved the bill by a near two-to-one margin (see French Senate Oks Pension Reform Bill ), while the National Assembly passed the measure by a vote of 393 to 152 yesterday.

Social Affairs Minister Francois Fillon, who pushed the reform forward, said the its passage showed that France is capable of change. “At a time when it is common to say that France is unreceptive to reform, the proof is here that change is possible,” Fillon said from the Senate floor, the Journal reported.