Tuesday, October 12, 2010

France hit by third national strike in a month

France hit by third national strike in a month-

Commuters wait at Paris St Lazare station Transport in Paris has been disrupted
French unions are staging a national day of strikes and demonstrations in opposition to the government's pension reforms - the third in a month.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march in cities across France, with transport workers, civil servants and teachers stopping work.

Ministers want to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and the state pension age from 65 to 67.
Meanwhile, key workers are set to vote on whether to begin open-ended strikes.
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Oil industry hit
Half of all flights to and from Paris Orly airport, and one in three at Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais have been cancelled for Tuesday.

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 were badly hit but the metro is less affected and buses should run as usual.
"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."
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Start Quote-

We're not here to do what's easy, we don't always have the people's approval”
End Quote Eric Woerth Labour Minister
Hundreds of thousands are expected to protest on Tuesday, with more than 200 demonstrations planned nationwide.

One union representing elementary and nursery school teachers said it expected half its members would stay at home.

Further mass demonstrations are planned for Saturday.
The French oil industry has been hit. Workers at the Fos-Lavera oil port in southern France are striking for a 15th day, forcing up diesel prices in Europe. Diesel supplies have run out on Corsica.

Some 56 petrol tankers and 29 cargo ships are stranded outside Fos-Lavera port.
Ten of France's 12 mainland refineries have been affected. However, leading oil firm Total insisted supplies on the mainland were not being disrupted.

Public transport and energy sector workers will vote on Tuesday on whether to begin open-ended strikes.
These rolling strikes would be organised by serving notice of 24-hour stoppages and renewed each day before they expired.
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This is "crunch week" for the key reform of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency, with some unions now threatening open-ended action. The ballot on the rolling strikes will be held on Tuesday evening, and it is 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.

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 the rolling strikes carry the same level of support as the one-day action, and can they maintain momentum?

Among those to have already declared in favour are union members from the state rail company, SNCF, and gas and electricity companies.

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 some mothers could receive a full pension even if they had taken years out of work. 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 parliament in the coming weeks.

Splits: 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).

Retirement years

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.

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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