The transportation, government and public service sectors in France are expecting considerable disruptions as trade unions go on strike to protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s planned pension reforms.
Fewer than half of high-speed TGV trains will be operating
French railway workers went on strike late Monday, ahead of a planned day of nationwide protest against the pension reform proposals of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Overnight trains, both domestic and international, were canceled, according to German news agency DPA, and transportation throughout the country is expected to be severely disrupted as the strike continues into Tuesday.
SNCF, the state railway operator, said fewer than half of all its high-speed TGV trains would be operating Tuesday, and as few as one-in-four regional trains. International train schedules were also to be affected, with travel to Germany curtailed, and Spain and Italy completely cut off. However, Eurostar trains between Paris and London are scheduled to run normally.
Commuters in Paris are also being told to expect delays on the Metro, and the French Civil Aviation Authority has asked airlines to suspend 25 percent of their flights from the capital's two major airports.
The strike won't just be limited to transportation. Widespread disruptions are expected in government, industry, banking and postal services. The education ministry said nearly a third of primary school teachers would be joining the picket line.
Raising the retirement age
Sarkozy wants to raise the retirement age to 62
More than 200 rallies and marches are scheduled throughout France on Tuesday, with trade unions hoping that at least two million people will demonstrate. Recent polls have shown that about 70 percent of the French people support the protests.
The demonstrations are planned to coincide with the start of a debate in parliament over a plan to overhaul the country's money-losing pension system.
Among the proposals from Sarkozy's conservative UMP party are plans to gradually raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018. With people living longer, the government insists that reforms are essential to shore up the pension program.
Despite the strikes, protests and travel delays, Sarkozy is expected to remain firm. According to French media reports, the government is not prepared to make any concessions, apart from enlarging the list of professions that will be exempt from the reform because of their effect on workers' health.
France is facing a huge public deficit, and the government thinks raising the retirement age could save 70 billion euros ($89.7 billion) by 2030.
Author: Martin Kuebler (AFP/AP/dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold