FRANCE - France's employers federation, the MEDEF and a majority of the five main staff unions have reached an agreement on top-up pension provision in the private sector that involves 30% of blue collar workers and 55% of white collar staff. 

Negotiations had begun at the start of the year on a new agreement for the running of the two top-up schemes, ARRCO (all workers) and AGIRC (white collar), which have been pushed into the red by the economic crisis.

The schemes are also having to adapt to new French legislation that came into effect at the end of last year and sees the minimum retirement age increased to 62 and the age to draw a maximum state pension increased to 67.

The new agreement focuses on the extension until 2018 of AGFF, set up in 1983 to finance top-up pensions for individuals retiring before the age of 65. The scheme is currently in surplus.

However, Mehdi Khaled, a senior consultant at Mercer in France, said: "Extending the AGFF has to be seen as a stop-gap solution designed to offset a sharp reduction in pensions.

"What is clear is that the long-term financial wellbeing of the ARRCO and AGIRC schemes cannot be assured without an increase in contributions."

The validation of the agreement has been in the balance in recent weeks.

The CFTC union, having responded coolly at first, signed the agreement along with the CFDT and the FO on 30 March.

Two unions remain opposed, the CGT and the CFE-CGC.

A CFTC spokesman told IPE: "Uppermost in our minds in signing this agreement were the workers who are poised to take their retirement in the coming months and years and who would have been faced with the prospect of a 20% reduction in their pensions. We now have security on the financing of top-up provision until 2018.

"However, at the same time, we are aware the long-term issues, namely putting the schemes' finances on an even keel, remain unresolved. We continue to lobby for an increase in the contributions of staff and employers into the schemes if even greater deficits are to be avoided. However, the MEDEF is opposed to this."

The CGT made an increase in contributions a prerequisite to its signing of the agreement.

"Without new (financial) resources," its spokesman said, "pensions are in danger."