As France is paralysed by the strike against pension reform plans, recent polls show nearly two thirds of people are willing to work beyond the current retirement age of 65.
But these are not the pensioners targeted in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s policies.
He said: “Since we now live longer, we won’t be able to afford pensions if we don’t work longer. I am telling train and underground drivers, gas and electricity workers, and all the others, that we cannot have two categories of people: those who have to work for 40 years and those who only need to work for 37 and a half.”
The reform is aimed at a generous pension scheme enjoyed by a minority of people working, or having worked, in so-called “special professions”. They represent some one and a half million people, or 6.4 per cent of the population of pensioners.
The objective of the reform is to increase the number of working years from 37 and a half to 40 years.
In return, pensions would be calculated on the final six months’ pay, rather than on average salary over 25 years, as is the norm in the private sector.
Among those benefiting from this “special regime,” introduced after World War Two, are employees of the state-run electricity and rail companies, whose jobs are considered dangerous.
Critics say the special benefits are what has caused SNCF’s record three billion euro budget deficit.
All 368,000 employees and former SNCF workers as well as their families enjoy the same healthcare, pension and family benefits.
Less well-known professions also benefit from the perks, such as priests, sailors, solicitors, and ballet dancers at the Paris Opera – a privilege which goes back to the 17th century under Louis XIV. Dancers usually retire at the age of 40.
But the beneficiaries of the special regime who cause the most controversy are members of parliament. MPs retire at the age of 55, senators at 53. Each year worked counts double.
Ironically, while some denounce their privileged status, the rest will still have to vote on the very reforms which could see them lose it.