Thursday, September 23, 2010

French Workers Hold Another General Strike In Opposition to Pension Reforms

French Workers Hold Another General Strike In Opposition to Pension Reforms

23 Sep 2010 14:17 GMT

The latest strikes have disrupted transport services including trains and airports, as well as other public services

French trade unions have launched another set of strikes in protest over an unpopular pension reform, with workers staging a 24-hour walkout.

Police said 65,000 people had taken to the streets in Paris, the capital, while organisers put the figure at 300,000.

Unions were hoping for an even bigger turnout than protests earlier this month, which saw between one and three million people taking to the streets.

Demonstrators are hoping to pressure Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, to overturn plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

The bill has already been passed by France's lower house of parliament and will be debated next month by the senate, where it is expected to pass with ease.

Widespread disruption was expected to hit transport and schools on Thursday, after workers began their walkout on Wednesday evening.

Up to 50 per cent of flights were cancelled at airports in the capital and other cities, airport authorities said on Thursday morning.

'Massive numbers'

Francois Chereque, the head of the CFDT union, said protester numbers would be "massive".

"We'll see if there are more people. But in the greater Paris region, for instance, more coaches have been hired to come to demonstrate in central Paris.

"The number of demonstrators today will determine what the movement does next," he told RMC radio.

More than 231 separate demonstrations are expected to be held nationwide.

According to an opinion poll published by the communist daily L'Humanite, some 68 per cent of the public support the strike, while only 15 per cent are against it.

Under the current law, French men and women can retire at 60, but they only get a full pension if they have paid social security contributions for a given period, which for most people now in work is 40.5 years.

Under the new law, the number of years of payroll social security payments needed to get a full pension is due to increase in stages to 41.5 years, and the minimum retirement age is to go up to 62.

Unfair burden

The age at which retirees can get a full state pension even if they have not paid the required number of years is currently 65. The new law calls for this to increase gradually to 67 by 2018.

Unions and opposition politicians say the plan puts an unfair burden on workers, particularly women, part-timers and the former unemployed who might struggle to hit the 41.5 year requirement.

They have made counter proposals, including calls for taxes on certain bonuses and on the highest incomes to help fund the pension system.

The government argues the reform could save $90bn by 2030 at a time when France's public deficit is well above the eurozone target of three per cent.

Source: Agencies

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