Raffarin firm on scrapping Whit Monday holiday

28th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 28 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Thursday stood firmly behind government plans to abolish a May bank holiday in order to raise money for the elderly, despite strike calls by trade unions.

PARIS, April 28 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Thursday stood firmly behind government plans to abolish a May bank holiday in order to raise money for the elderly, despite strike calls by trade unions.  

"I ask that the law, approved by the parliament, be respected by all," Raffarin said after a government meeting on the "day of solidarity" organized for Whit Monday, which this year falls on May 16.  

Last year, President Jacques Chirac's administration pushed through a law that turned Whit Monday into a normal working day in order to produce an extra EUR 2 billion (USD 2.6 billion) for a "National Solidarity Fund."  

But several trade unions have called for employees to strike on that day, an expression of social discontent that has authorities worried, as the protests would come just two weeks before a May 29 referendum on the EU constitution.  

With the 'no' camp still leading in the polls, officials both in the centre-right government and in the opposition Socialist party fear that a day of strikes so close to the vote would fuel opposition to the landmark treaty.  

The idea for a "day of solidarity" to raise funds for the elderly followed the 2003 heat wave in which the deaths of some 15,000 old people were shown to have been partially caused by the absence of basic care.   

About two out of three French people say they are opposed to the cancellation of a bank holiday, according to the latest opinion polls, and many companies have maintained May 16 as a day off.  

But Raffarin gave no ground, saying: "The day of solidarity is a call to brotherhood among all French people. It's an act of generosity by French society for itself, for its future."  

The prime minister, however, did not make any mention of possible sanctions should private or public sector companies fail to adhere to the new law.  

The law stipulates that companies and local administrations can choose to work days other than Whit Monday - the day after the Christian feast of Pentecost - if there is agreement with unions.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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