Macron, under strike pressure, mulls changes to pension plan

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FILE - In this Dec.9, 2019 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony at the Invalides monument in Paris. With French President Emmanuel Macron under heavy pressure over his pension reform plans, government officials are meeting with employers and unions on Wednesday to consider the way forward. (Ludovic Marin/Pool via AP, File)

PARIS – The French government launched negotiations with labor unions Wednesday on potential changes to a landmark pension reform bill that sparked crippling transportation strikes and protests across the country.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe met with union leaders and employer group representatives after French President Emmanuel Macron asked his government to hold talks on possible amendments to the reform package.

The general strike that started Dec. 5 dramatically impacted train and subway service as drivers remained off the job. Teachers, doctors and other workers joined the walkouts, and hundreds of thousands of people participated in nationwide protests.

An agreement with hard-left unions appeared to be a way off. The leader of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, acknowledged a “deep disagreement” with the prime minister after their meeting.

“We have two clashing perspectives," Martinez said. “We don’t have the same values.”

The government is seeking to reach a deal with more moderate unions, which Macron hopes may weaken the protest movement.

A close aide to Macron, who spoke anonymously in accordance with customary practices, said the president "won't abandon the project” but is “willing to improve it.” Macron himself was not planning to get involved in the negotiations or to make an announcement in coming days.

Among the reforms is raising by two years the age at which individuals would be eligible to retire with a full pension, arguably the main target of worker opposition. T he proposal to increase t he state-sanctioned retirement age from 62 to 64 is currently scheduled for 2027.