PARIS (AP) -- French President Emmanuel Macron advocated Tuesday for his contested plan to increase the pension eligibility age as part of the pro-business policies he has promoted since he took office in 2017, saying people need to work "a little longer" to make the system financially sustainable.
Macron visited the Rungis International Market in the southern suburbs of Paris for his first public discussion with French workers since lawmakers started debating the government's pension-reform legislation earlier this month, prompting series of strikes and protests.
The bill, which the Senate expects to start considering on March 2, would push back the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 and require people to have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to a full pension, amid other measures.
"People know that yes, on average, you have to work a little longer, all of them, because otherwise we won't be able to finance our pensions properly," Macron said.
All French retirees receive a state pension. The system is projected to go into a deficit in the coming decade as France's population ages.
Macron argued that the proposed changes would "create more wealth for the country because we will have more hours worked." He said the plan would allow early retirements for people who started working at a young age or in jobs with difficult conditions, such as working at night or in the cold and carrying heavy loads.
"I believe in work. I've been fighting for that as president for almost six years now, and all the reforms we've made are going in that direction," the French leader said. "Because work is what gives you a salary, it is what gives you the possibility to support your family."
Macron made the pension plan a key priority of his second term when he campaigned for reelection last year.
During his first term as president, Macron's government made other changes that it said would make France's labor market more flexible and revitalize the country's economy. They include making it easier to hire and fire workers, cutting business taxes, and making it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits.
Critics argue the changes fray an important social safety net.