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Why should we live like our neighbours? Worker defends France's retirement age

PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to make France globally competitive means that Patrick Martine, concierge in a home for the elderly, may have to retire at the age of 63 and four months, not at 62 as he was previously told.

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The 57-year-old is not sure he can make it through an extra 16 months being at the beck and call of residents.

“I’m tired,” Martine told Reuters at one of his CGT trade union’s branch offices as comrades planned their next course of strike action against the president’s pension reform.

In his early career, Martine worked low-paid jobs in the private sector, including as a nightclub bouncer and driver, often away from home and with little stability. When he reached his 40s, he opted for a public sector job in Paris.

The pay was worse but the concierge job brought income security and the guarantee of a decent pension at 62, the legal retirement age, calculated on the basis of his salary during his final six months working.

Now, he says, Macron is trying to steal that from him.

France has one of the earliest retirement ages among industrialised nations. The president, a former investment banker, says the French should work longer to get a full pension and help plug a big deficit in the pension budget as life expectancies increase.

As part of an overhaul of France’s convoluted pension system, his prime minister last week announced a package of bonuses and discounts will be put in place to encourage the French to work until the age of 64 by 2027.

In Britain, by comparison, the state pension age is set to rise to 67 by 2028. In Germany, it is 65 but will increase to 67 by 2029.

Even so, Martine is furious. So too is the hard-left CGT, which is spearheading public sector strikes now in their 12th day and threatening to intensify the industrial action in the build up to Christmas if Macron does not pull the reform.

“Why should we live like that just because our neighbours do,” Martine said. “That’s why they say the French are a bunch of moaners, because we have perks that we’re not prepared to let go of.”

Around a fifth of the workforce is in the public sector, and while the reforms would apply to everyone, it is those jobs that have traditionally offered generous pension terms.

Martine said his tough working conditions - he complained of late night calls and the stress of dealing with elderly residents who had suffered a fall or were going through the onset of dementia - merited retirement at 62.

Under Macron’s plan, Martine could still retire at 62 but he would get about 100 euros less per month than he had hoped.

He earns 1,724 euros per month. If he retired at 62, his pension would be 1,208 euros per month. If he retired at the proposed new age of 63 year and four months he anticipates receiving roughly 1,300 euros each month.

“Each reform is a step backwards,” he said. “I don’t want to retire and have to work to survive financially.”

Reporting by Caroline Pailliez; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Alison Williams