France hit by third national strike in a month

France hit by third national strike in a month

 A general view shows the exterior of the Gare de L'Est train  station in Paris (11 October 2010)
Polls suggest a large majority of people in France remain in favour of the strikes

French unions are staging a national day of strikes and demonstrations in opposition to the government’s pension reforms – the third in a month.

Ministers want to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and the state pension age from 65 to 67.
The civil aviation authority says up to half of flights to and from France have been cancelled because of walkouts.
Meanwhile, public transport and energy sector workers are set to vote on whether to begin open-ended strikes.
The rolling strikes would be organised by serving notice of 24-hour stoppages and renewed each day before they expired. Members of the union would need to be balloted at the end of the strike day on Tuesday.
Among those to have already declared in favour are union members from the state rail company, SNCF, and gas and electricity companies.
Already, a strike by workers at the oil and cargo terminals around Marseille is entering its third week, forcing up diesel prices in Europe.
Some 50 ships are stranded outside the port, and the French oil giant Total has continued to shut down its La Mede refinery because of a shortage of oil. Four other refineries may have to close this week.
A fleet of tankers has been employed to supply petrol stations.
The government’s pension reform proposals have triggered waves of protests so far, and brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets.
‘Last chance’
For Tuesday, half of all flights to and from Paris Orly airport, and one in three at Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais have been cancelled.
This is “crunch week” for the key reform of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, with some unions now threatening open-ended action. The unions raised the stakes last week announcing two strike days in a week – one on Tuesday, another planned on Saturday. But it is the ballot on the rolling strikes that will be held on Tuesday evening, and the prospect of fuel shortages around the country, that will most concern the government and hold the interest of the country.
Already in Marseille dockers are heading into a third week of strikes that is now leading to the closure of important oil refineries. Workers at most of France’s other refineries have also backed rolling 24-hour strikes from Tuesday meaning there will be a daily vote on whether to pursue the action. According to the polls a large majority of people in France are in favour of the strike action. The numbers that turn out for the demonstrations in the biggest cities this week will indicate how strong the resolve is. But there are two unknown factors – would these rolling strikes carry the same level of support as the one-day action, and can they maintain momentum?

Just one in three TGV high-speed trains are expected to run. Eurostar’s Paris to London route should operate normally.
Commuter trains in Paris have halted but the metro is less affected and buses should run as usual.
Teachers, postal workers and lorry drivers are also joining the strikes.
“This is one of the last chances to make the government back down,” said Francois Chereque, the leader of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT). “The large majority of employees cannot afford to pay for repeated days of strikes.”
The French upper house, the Senate, is currently voting on the pension reform plans, article by article. The most contentious parts – raising the standard minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and the age for a full state pension to 67 from 65 – have already been approved.
“We’re not here to do what’s easy, we don’t always have the people’s approval,” Labour Minister Eric Woerth said. “It’s difficult to tell the French that the they have to work more, up to 67 years, but it has to be done.”
Last week, President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would inject more money into his retirement reform bill so mothers of three or more children, and parents of handicapped children could retire earlier. The changes will be financed by new taxes that will bring in 3.4bn euros (£3bn).
But he said there would be no concessions on the key elements of the bill, which is expected to be passed by the Senate in the next two weeks.
French workers can expect to spend more of their life in retirement than those in any other country, according to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Under current rules, both men and women in France can retire at 60, providing they have paid social security contributions for 40.5 years – although they are not entitled to a full pension until they are 65.


Retirement years

The government says it will save 70bn euros (£58bn) by raising the retirement age to 62 by 2018, the qualification to 41.5 years, and the pension age to 67.Unions and opposition politicians say the plan puts an unfair burden on workers, particularly women, part-timers and the former unemployed who may 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 BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris says Mr Sarkozy may be encouraged by splits emerging within the union movement.
The leader of the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC) union, Jacques Voisin, has distanced his organisation from any open-ended strikes, our correspondent says.
And critically, the union that represents a large number of the Paris metro drivers says its members will not be striking at all, he adds.
However, according to opinion polls, a large majority of people in France remain in favour of the strikes.

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