Sarkozy tweaks pension reform plan as strikes loom
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday he would inject 3.4 billion euros into his retirement reform bill so some parents can retire earlier, as he faces open-ended strike action against the plan.
Labour Minister Eric Woerth confirmed the changes asked for by Sarkozy by presenting the amendments, which will benefit mothers of three or more children and parents of handicapped children, to the senate.
Opposition Socialist senators denounced the changes as simply reinstating existing advantages that had been due to be axed.
"You're turning the debate into theatre," said the Socialists' Senate leader Jean-Pierre Bel.
Sarkozy's Elysee Palace said that the changes would be partly financed by new taxes that would bring in 3.4 billion euros (4.7 billion dollars), the cost of the measure until 2022.
The amendments were announced the day after French unions called for open-ended strikes to be staged from Tuesday to protest the overall pension reform which will raise the standard retirement age from 60 to 62.
Workers at state rail company SNCF, the Paris public transport system as well as the gas and electricity sectors are all to go on strike, the fourth day of action in just over a month.
Demonstrators took to the streets during two days of protest in September and a third on October 2.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon has repeatedly vowed his government will push on with the reform despite the protests, a key plank of Sarkozy's reform agenda as he eyes reelection in 2012.
Two French Mediterranean oil terminals are currently blocked by strikes, with more workers joining the 10-day stoppage on Wednesday. The movement has caused fuel shortages on Corsica.
That action is mainly in protest at port privatisation plans but dockers' unions are also criticising the pensions reform.
Critics say the plan to raise the standard retirement age to help rein in France's public deficit places an unfair burden on workers.
However, the head of the powerful CGT union, Bernard Thibault, said on Thursday that a call for a general strike was not yet on the cards.
"For me (calling for a general strike) is a completely abstract, abstruse slogan... that doesn't correspond with the practice through which we slowly escalate the battle of wills," Thibault told RTL radio.
Not calling for a general strike "hasn't stopped tens of millions of people from already taking part, one way or another, since May, in protests against the government," he said.
© 2010 AFP