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France faces major disruption as workers threaten open-ended strikes

French unions are preparing for more protest strikes on Tuesday over planned pension and retirement reforms. The French senate voted on Monday to raise the age at which people are given full pensions from 65 to 67.

The strike in September in Marseille

Workers are taking to the streets for the fourth time in a month

The French senate on Friday agreed to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, bringing the unpopular bill closer to becoming law. President Nicolas Sarkozy also wants to raise the age at which workers can retire with a full pension – to 67. The senate approved that part of the bill on Monday.

Transport workers plan to protest in the usual way: by taking to the streets. The transport network is likely to be severely disrupted on Tuesday. Street protests are also expected in a fresh wave on unrest over Sarkozy's plans.

Half the flights to and from Paris Orly airport, and one in three at Charles de Gaulle are likely to be cancelled because of walkouts by airport workers. On the railways, one in three high-speed TGV trains will be operating. The Paris metro is also likely to be severely hit.

Teachers, truckers and postal workers are planning to join the protests. Meanwhile, dock workers on strike in the oil port of Fos-Lavera forced a partial shutdown of a major refinery. They have been protesting for over two weeks.

Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy says he will not back down over the reforms

However, Sarkozy has so far remained firm on the unpopular plans, which are aimed at safeguarding France's cherished AAA credit rating, which enables it to borrow at low rates. His office said he has no intention of backing down.

"We're not here to do what's easy, we don't always have the people's approval," Labor Minister Eric Woerth told the senate.

Most unions are planning a one-day strike, but the protests are renewable by a daily vote. A survey for the newspaper Le Parisien on Monday showed that 69 percent of the French back Tuesday's strike, with 61 percent in favor of open-ended industrial action.

"This is one of the last chances to make the government back down," said Francois Chereque, head of France's second biggest union the CFDT.

The government hopes its pension and retirement reforms to be passed in full by the end of the month.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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