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French Strike Extended as Sarkozy, Unions See No Common Ground

Wednesday, 13 Oct 2010 03:28 PM

Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) -- French unions have called for public transport workers to strike for a third day tomorrow to pressure the government to drop plans to increase the retirement age, even as fewer employees stayed away from work today.

Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner, started to halt operations at all its French plants following the strike, increasing the likelihood of fuel shortages. With the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy maintaining that it won’t back down on plans to raise the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60, the stalemate looked set to continue.

“He has not budged from his position,” Bernard Thibault, who heads the Confederation Generale du Travail labor union, said today on Canal Plus television channel. “His point of departure in ‘no negotiations.’ We will continue.”

The government says the changes are needed to help France cope with an aging population and help balance the pension system’s budget by 2018. The pensions’ system reform is part of the broader government’s struggle to cut down the budget deficit. This year the gap will stand at 7.7 percent and Sarkozy’s minister plan to cut it down to 92 billion euros ($125 billion), or 6 percent of gross domestic product, next year.

“However difficult it may be to implement this reform, the government and parliament will press ahead with it in the general interest calmly and determinedly,” Sarkozy told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris today, according to government spokesman Luc Chatel.

The reform bill has been approved by the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, while the Senate is debating the measure and has approved some key planks, such as raising the minimum age for a pension to 62 and the age for a full pension to 67 from 65.

More Disruptions

The national railroad company SNCF is expecting four out of 10 high-speed intercity trains tomorrow, up from one out of three today. Traffic on the Thalys trains to Brussels will be running at 90 percent, up from 80 percent yesterday.

Eurostar service to London isn’t affected. The SNCF said the percentage of striking workers fell to 25 percent today from 40 percent yesterday.

On the Paris metro, three unions, the CGT, Force Ouvriere, and SUD, have voted to continue striking tomorrow, with the CFDT voting to return to work. Traffic today was normal on half the lines with more than two out of three trains on the remaining lines. The metro said on its website that traffic should “normal or near normal” tomorrow.

Air traffic controllers held a one-day strike yesterday, and air travel returned to normal today.

Demonstrations Planned

Across France, 1.23 million people marched in protests yesterday, police said, up from 997,000 during the previous demonstrations on Oct. 2. The CFDT union said 3.5 million people marched, up from 2.9 million. Yesterday’s protest was the fourth against the proposed pension changes in five weeks. Unions plan more demonstrations Oct. 16.

Union leaders have opposed calling for a general unlimited strike, instead allowing workers to decide branch by branch whether to continue striking. Unions have said the changes made to the pension bill so far by the government are insufficient.

The government says it will allow people in hardship jobs who started working as teenagers, as well as women who had three children, to continue retiring early.

“The sense of responsibility, the sense of duty, is what led the government to propose, as has been done in all other countries, to lengthen working careers to finance the retirement system,” Prime Minister Francois Fillon said during debate in parliament today.

--With assistance from Helene Fouquet in Paris. Editors: Vidya Root, Ben Livesey

To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

   
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Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) -- French unions have called for public transport workers to strike for a third day tomorrow to pressure the government to drop plans to increase the retirement age, even as fewer employees stayed away from work today. Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner,...
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2010-28-13
Wednesday, 13 Oct 2010 03:28 PM
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