Tags: sarkozy unions retirement

Sarkozy, French Unions Head for Showdown

Friday, 24 Sep 2010 06:24 AM


The French government and labor unions held their ground over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age after the second national protest against the proposal this month.

Labor Minister Eric Woerth said there were fewer strikers yesterday than in a Sept. 7 demonstration, a sign of declining opposition. Unions, which claimed more protesters, are meeting today to plan their next move.

“There is a deceleration of the protests,” Woerth said on France 2 television. “There were fewer demonstrations, fewer strikers. These measures will be voted in parliament, and they will be enacted.”

The National Assembly this month passed Sarkozy’s pension bill, which raises the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 and the age for a full pension to 67 from 65. The bill is headed to the Senate. Unions want the retirement age to remain at 60. Sarkozy’s government says it has already made concessions and won’t bow to demands to scrap the increase.

Nationwide, police said 997,000 people marched in more than 200 demonstrations, down from 1.1 million two weeks ago. Unions said 3 million people marched, up from 2.7 million.

“If the government continues in its intransigence, then we will enter a standoff,” said Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT, France’s largest union. “This government is not listening.”

The Paris metro system said operations were close to normal, with service at 85 percent. The number of strikers among postal workers and teachers fell.

‘Fewer People’

“There were fewer people in the street and less train traffic disrupted,” said Dominique Barbet, an economist at BNP Paribas in Paris. “We can conclude that the government will be able to push the reform through with relatively minor amendments.”

SNCF, the national railway, said about half its high-speed trains ran. The agency said 37.1 percent of its workers struck yesterday, compared to 42.9 percent two weeks ago. Eurostar service to London and Thalys trains to Brussels weren’t affected.

Air France cancelled half of its medium-and short-haul flights while maintaining long-distance service. France’s civil aviation authority asked airlines to cancel 40 percent of flights from Charles de Gaulle airport and 50 percent from the capital’s smaller Orly airport.

La Poste, the state-owned mail and banking system, reported 16.5 percent workers struck, down from 23 percent on Sept. 7. The Ministry of Education reported 25.8 percent of teachers on strike, down from 29 percent.

Walkouts

Excluding teachers, about 8 percent of government workers stayed away, down from 18.6 percent two weeks ago, the Labor Ministry said.

The state pension fund will lose 10.7 billion euros ($13.6 billion) this year, with the shortfall reaching 50 billion euros in 2020 without a change in policy, according to the Budget Ministry. Unions and the opposition Socialist Party want to plug losses through higher taxes on capital and on high earners.

The Socialists advocate keeping the retirement age at 60. “We have to use all means to put pressure on the government,” Martine Aubry, the party’s first secretary, told RTL radio. “It’s not that we don’t want a reform, we do want a pensions- system reform but one that will solve the problem lastingly,” she said. The current reform is due to balance the system until 2018.

Opposition to tighter pension rules sparked extended strikes in 2003 and 2007. In 1995, President Jacques Chirac dropped an attempt to eliminate retirement privileges for transport workers after walkouts crippled the country.

France’s legal retirement age has been 60 since Socialist President Francois Mitterrand cut it from 65 after his 1981 election. Germany decided in 2007 to raise its retirement age gradually to 67 from 65. Spain and Italy have also increased their retirement ages to 65 to address the squeeze of longer life expectancies and declining birth rates.

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