PARIS President Francois Hollande's plan for a cautious reform of the pension system is not extensive enough, the head of France's largest union said on Thursday.
Laurent Berger, who heads the reformist CFDT union, criticized Hollande as unions, employers and officials launched three months of talks on how to fix a pension system seen running a 20-billion-euro ($26 billion) deficit by 2020.
The debate is aimed at yielding recommendations that are non-binding for the government, but will serve as the basis for a draft law to be put before parliament in September.
On Sunday, the Socialist Hollande said he wanted adjustments to the system rather than an overhaul, as he tries to ease a strain on public finances without setting off street protests.
"The principles laid out by the president... are principles that should lead us toward a systemic reform of the pension system," he told journalists. "He is loath to go there. That's a mistake."
The remark showed disappointment from a traditional ally and reform advocate after Hollande said he did not want to "start from scratch" on the pension system, but work at the margins.
Despite threats by hardline unions to call protests if Hollande forces people to work longer for their pensions, opinion polls suggest many French people are eager for reform.
A survey in May showed two thirds of respondents wanted a "deep overhaul" of the pension system, while another this month showed a majority wanted to see the government carry out faster reforms to bolster the economy.
Hollande has said he prefers to eventually increase the number of years workers must pay into the public scheme to get a full pension beyond the current 41.5 years, and tasked unions and employers to agree on the pace.
But he repeated his objection to raising the legal retirement age above 62, going against the wishes both of the MEDEF employers' union and the European Commission.
($1 = 0.7590 euros)
(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur and Yann Le Guernigou; editing by Ron Askew)