France’s government on Monday moved forward with a fiercely contested pensions reform plan that would raise the retirement age to 64, saying balancing the system’s books must be top priority. “Going back on this point (of the age increase) would be giving up on getting the system back in balance,” Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said after the legislation was presented at a cabinet meeting, the last step before it enters parliamentary debate. Apart from increasing the retirement age gradually from 62 now to 64 by 2030, the bill would increase the minimum number of years people must pay into the system to get a full pension to 43 from 42 at present. Dussopt said the government “disagrees with trade unions”, who were at the forefront of a massive day of strikes and protests Thursday in which over 1.1 million people took to the streets against pension reform. Unions are now gearing up for another strike day on January 31, warning they are prepared to further step up their actions if the government does not relent. Ministers argue that the pension system will slip billions into deficit in the coming years and that savings must be found to avoid costly top-ups from general taxation.