Mr Castex said negotiations between the French government and unions over a controversial pension reform will be postponed until 2021 to focus on economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The reform, pushed by President Emmanuel Macron and the single greatest revamp of the pension system since World War 2, was halted in its tracks in February by the pandemic.
However, the proposal angered unions and brought thousands of people onto the streets at the turn of the year.
The demonstrators were dubbed the Gilets Jaune, or Yellow Vests, in reference to the fluorescent vests which they wore.
The decision to push back is a clear indication of the French Government’s keenness to ease tension as France grapples with the economic fallout from the coronavirus.
But it is also likely to be hailed by Mr Macron’s opponents as a sign of weakness in the face of vociferous opposition
Mr Castex told reporters yesterday after his first meeting with union representatives since becoming PM: “The priority now is the battle against the crisis, for employment and to tackle unemployment.”
He insisted the reform, which includes raising the retirement age by two years to 64, would not be scrapped.
However, trade unions argue that it will erode hard-earned benefits and leave pensioners worse off.
Castex also said that the full implementation of unemployment insurance reform – also controversial – would be postponed to January 1.
Speaking prior to Yellow Vest protests across France on May 1 of last year, Dr Joseph Downing, an LSE Fellow in Nationalism at the London School of Economics’ European Institute, told Express.co.uk Mr Macron was “undoubtedly rattled”, with his authority having “drained away” in the wake of the demonstrations.
He added: “When they first started he was absent from the scene totally.
“He’s been left rattled and he has not got the same sort of swagger he had previously.
“His authority has drained away.
“When he came in he was supposed to be the freshest thing on the menu, a reformer, but he’s failed to do that.
“In France, the Presidency has something of a mystical aura about it and people are always looking back to Charles de Gaulle, or Francois Mitterrand.
“Macron has tried to carry it off, but never very well frankly, much like Sarkozy before him.”