Raffarin agrees to pay talks after nationwide protests

13th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 13 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Sunday sought to defuse the anger that last week sparked nationwide anti-government strikes and demonstrations by agreeing to open pay negotiations with trade unions.

PARIS, March 13 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Sunday sought to defuse the anger that last week sparked nationwide anti-government strikes and demonstrations by agreeing to open pay negotiations with trade unions.

In an interview with French radio, Raffarin said a new round of wage bargaining would begin before the end of March in the public sector, and that the government would also encourage talks in the private sector covering issues such as the minimum wage and widened share ownership.

Indicating that an increased offer will be on the table for public employees, the prime minister said the government had a "slim room for manoeuvre" thanks to unexpectedly high tax revenues.

The government is also studying ways of encouraging share-ownership in order to give employees more of the fruits of companies' success. Last month France's top publicly-quoted companies reported record profits just as unemployment climbed above the symbolic 10 percent mark.

"Companies that have had good results, we need to encourage them to share the results," Raffarin said. "Sharing growth is our objective."

Between 500,000 and a million people took part in protest marches Thursday to demand higher salaries and an end to government reforms of the 35 hour week.

"I am not surprised by the mobilisation, because we have growth higher than what we predicted. It is legitimate for French men and women to claim an improvement in their buying power," he said.

"The demonstrations were large and significant, and conducted responsibly. They are part of our social dialogue. The government cannot stay silent."

The scale of the protests has unnerved President Jacques Chirac, who fears a build-up of social discontent could lead to defeat in the May referendum on the EU's constitution, and commentators have been predicting that concessions to the unions were inevitable.

Raffarin said that "we must not presume that the yes vote (at the referendum) is a foregone conclusion ... The result will be close."

But he insisted that contested reforms currently going through parliament-- on education and the 35 hour week - would "follow their democratic route."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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