Hong Kong’s protesters can learn a thing or two from their French counterparts. We are not talking disruption, violence and vandalism here, but goals. Public transport workers in France brought Paris and other cities to a grinding halt with rolling strikes to show displeasure with President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the country’s pension system. There is every chance of an equitable outcome; retirement benefits are a grass-roots issue and there is room for negotiation. Seven months of protests in Hong Kong have highlighted the ineptitude of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration and given pan-democrats control of the district councils. Of the demonstrators’ five demands , only one, the withdrawal of the extradition bill behind the discontent, has been attained. There is still every need for a genuinely independent inquiry into accusations of police brutality. But pushing for Western-style democracy is a lost cause in a country governed by a communist dictatorship that has popular support on the mainland. The protest movement risks running out of steam unless it focuses on attainable issues. Here is a hint: Article 145 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that enables two systems of government under one country, states that local authorities are expected to develop and improve social welfare “in the light of the economic conditions and social needs”. The root of the unrest is the failure to live up to those obligations. Among the shortcomings are unaffordable and poor quality housing , strained public health services , falling education standards , a lack of care for the elderly and disabled, inattention to the needs of minorities and a flawed pension scheme. No democracy? Try welfare state I am only too aware of the problems with the latter, known locally as the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF). For the first time in my working life, I am being forced into a retirement scheme that does not guarantee a comfortable retirement. I can retire early and take the proceeds of my soon-to-be closed private scheme, or remain employed and shift most the funds into the public plan. The problem is that the MPF appears to have been set up in 2000 to create a pension industry of tens of thousands of jobs rather than to provide genuine protection. An annual review of 37 of the world’s pension schemes by the centre for financial studies at Monash University in Melbourne and the professional services firm Mercer puts the matter in perspective. While MPF ranks 15th overall in the latest global pension index based on the weighted average of scores for adequacy, sustainability and integrity, it is just 27th when it comes to providing sufficient retirement protection. The Netherlands, Denmark and Australia had the highest index values and Thailand the lowest. The asset manager Allianz Global Investors highlighted the dilemma in its retirement confidence study last year. Hongkongers surveyed believed the ideal amount needed for retirement was HK$5.048 million (US$647,000), but actual funds were on average only HK$3.218 million. The amount was perceived as sustaining only 14 years, leading to respondents believing that they would have to work until the age of 62.4 years, a record high for the survey. The French have among the most generous pension benefits in the world, enabling them to receive as much as 75 per cent of their final salary and, depending on occupation, retire as early as the age of 52. But the system is complex and unsustainable, accounting for a mammoth 14 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Poor show as Hong Kong’s pension fund fails to bear fruit If nothing is done, the system faces a deficit of up to 19 billion euros by 2025, which is why Macron has stepped in to institute reforms. There will be winners and losers, the reason for the strikes, but it is a matter that can be debated and negotiated on. Basic issues like MPF reform to improve pension returns, of concern for all Hongkongers and able to be dealt with by the government, are what the protesters should now also turn their attention to. No one can argue with such aims, which will have Beijing’s full support. When the trust of the Chinese leadership has been garnered, there could well be space to push for loftier goals. Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post Correction: In an earlier version of the piece, we said financial services company Allianz conducted a survey on retirement confidence, when it was asset manager Allianz Global Investors (AllianzGI) that conducted the survey.