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France's President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 12, 2021.Michel Euler/The Associated Press

France needs to push back the retirement age and the government will continue its pension reforms as soon as the COVID-19 situation is under control, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised speech on Monday.

Pension reform was a central pillar of Macron’s drive to create a more flexible and competitive labour market, while also reducing its financial burden on the state coffers.

However, his initial proposal infuriated the unions and provoked weeks of protests and transport strikes just before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Macron put it on hold as he ordered France into lockdown a year and a half ago.

But on Monday, less than a year before the next presidential election, Macron revived the campaign pledge that aides see as an essential plank of his reformist credibility with some voters, while conditioning it on a return to a normal health situation.

“Yes, our pension system is unfair. We will need to go towards more simplicity, more fairness,” Macron said in the speech. “We will have to work longer and take our retirement later.”

He also said that special pension regimes in certain industries – which concern workers in highly unionized and strike-prone sectors such as public transport or power plants – will be scrapped for new recruits.

An Elysee official told Reuters Macron will tell the government to hold discussions with unions on pensions as soon as September, pending on the health situation.

Sources told Reuters last month one of the options being studied was to push the legal retirement age by two years to 64 – something the government had stopped short of in its previous proposal.

Macron said he also wanted the minimum pension to be set at 1,000 euros a month. Many pensioners, often agricultural workers, scrap by with only 300 or 400 euros currently.

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