France set for new strike chaos in November

31st October 2007, Comments 0 comments

31 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - French rail and energy unions called Wednesday for fresh strike action in November in a tough showdown with the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy over plans to end their pension privileges.

31 October 2007

PARIS (AFP) - French rail and energy unions called Wednesday for fresh strike action in November in a tough showdown with the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy over plans to end their pension privileges.

A first strike on October 18 caused transport chaos around the country for several days, but failed to win concessions from the right-wing government, determined to scrap perks that allow some workers to retire as early as 50.

Six out of eight unions at state-owned rail operator SNCF, where opposition to the reform is fierce, called for an unlimited transport strike starting the night of November 13, as a show of force in negotiations.

Two major unions at the energy firms EDF and GDF backed calls for a one-day strike on November 14, with other unions to reach a decision next week after their ultimatum to the government expires.

Unions say worker benefits are under attack from Sarkozy's plans to overhaul the so-called "special" pensions schemes of half a million public employees, mostly railway workers, metro service operators and utility employees.

Some 1.1 million people currently draw pensions under the scheme, funded by contributions from 500,000 workers.

Currently the state bails out the special pensions fund to the tune of some five billion euros (6.9 billion dollars) a year, because contributions from workers fall far short of payments.

Civil servants have also decided on a work stoppage on November 20, accusing the government of failing to consider "their two priority demands -- purchasing power and public sector jobs."

Sarkozy has announced plans to scrap 22,900 civil service jobs in 2008 by not replacing retiring employees, the biggest job cut in the public sector in six years.

The strikes are seen as the first real test of Sarkozy's resolve to push through reforms that were the centerpiece of the election campaign that won him the French presidency six months ago.

Strikes and mass protests forced a previous government to back down on the reform of the so-called "special regimes" in 1995.

Polls show the government enjoys public backing for scrapping pension benefits that are increasingly seen as unfair, with 67 percent telling the government to hold fast at the height of October's rail strike.

But plans to streamline the public service -- which employs one in five people in the French labour force -- do not enjoy the same level of public support.

AFP

Subject: French news

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