Unions warn of conflict over pensions reform

10th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 10, 2007 (AFP) - French trade unions warned Monday of a "major social conflict" after the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to move fast on a new phase of public sector pension reform.

PARIS, Sept 10, 2007 (AFP) - French trade unions warned Monday of a "major social conflict" after the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to move fast on a new phase of public sector pension reform.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Sunday that plans were ready to overhaul so-called "special" pensions systems enjoyed by some 500,000 railway, electricity and other workers.

"When the president chooses to launch the reform, we'll straightaway start negotiations with the social partners," Fillon said.

He indicated that the government could introduce the reform by decree rather than by a law in parliament.

Employees of the state-owned SNCF rail company, the RATP Paris metro operator, utility suppliers EDF and GDF and some other professions have for years benefited from special pensions privileges compared to the rest of the public and private sectors.

Workers can retire after 37.5 years, instead of around 40 years for others. At RATP, more than half of employees are retired by the age of 55, and the average duration of retirement is nearly 25 years, compared to 17.7 years in the private sector.

In addition, pensions are calculated on the basis of final salaries rather than on the average over the course of a career.

Previous attempts to change the system have been derailed by strikes and demonstrations, notably in 1995 when the government of prime minister Alain Juppe was forced to withdraw reform plans.

Unions warned Monday of new trouble if Sarkozy's government does not take into account the views of workers.

"If the government has decided to use strong-arm tactics, there will be a major social conflict .... We cannot agree to a reform like this without dialogue and consultation," said Francois Chereque of the French Democratic Labour Confederation.

Christian Mailleux of the hardline Sud-Rail union described Fillon's words as a "declaration of war".

"He speaks of negotiations, but then he says the government has already decided what it plans to do. For us there is no question of negotiating the surrender of social rights," he said.

AFP

Subject: French news

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