France to lower retirement age for some workers

France's new Socialist government to lower retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers

Associated Press
For some, French retirement age goes down, not up
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French President Francois Hollande smiles after his weekly cabinet meeting in Elysee Palace, Paris, Wednesday, June 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

PARIS (AP) -- France's new Socialist government moved Wednesday to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 years old for certain workers, bucking the trend in developed countries in a gesture to unions that critics say is a costly mistake.

Governments from North America to Europe have been pushing retirement ages higher and higher in recent decades, as people are living longer and spending more years on state-sponsored pension checks.

Raising France's general retirement age from 60 to 62 years old was a key reform of conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The 2010 measure was aimed at reducing heavy government debts as Europe sunk into a continent-wide debt crisis — and many economists said it didn't push the retirement age high enough.

New President Francois Hollande, who unseated Sarkozy last month after riding a wave of voter anger at austerity measures, pledged during his campaign to reconsider the retirement reform.

On Wednesday, Hollande's government presented a draft decree at a Cabinet meeting that reverses the retirement age to 60 for some workers, such as those who enter the workforce at 18 or 19 years old, or mothers who leave the workforce to have three or more children.

The hard-left CGT union hailed the move as a "striking decision that breaks with policies everywhere in Europe."

The government said the decree, affecting about one in six retiring workers, will be finalized later this month and take effect in November.

The government says the costs — estimated at 1.1 billion next year — will be financed by a small rise in payroll charges paid by employers and employees. The government did not release a global cost for the measure.

The Socialist Cabinet is making the change by decree, amending an existing decree on workers who serve especially long careers, instead of via a law, which would need the approval of the parliament, currently dominated by conservatives. France is holding parliamentary elections starting Sunday, and Hollande needs to secure a leftist majority to accomplish much of what he pledged on the campaign trail.

France's leading business lobby, MEDEF, criticized the measure as "worrying for the financial future of the pension systems and for the competitiveness of businesses."

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