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Strike over pensions a 'success,' say unions

Latest update : 2008-05-23

An estimated 500,000 people demonstrated across France in protest over a government pension reform plan. "The May 22 protest is an unquestionable success," one union leader said. (Report: H.Drouet, K.Hakiki)

France’s seven biggest unions called a strike on Thursday, boosted by the endorsement from a majority of French opposition parties. More than half-million people, dock workers, rail personnel and factory employees alike, took to the streets across the country to protest against the government’s push for a pension reform.


In France workers must work 40 years in order to be eligible for a full state pension. Proposed reforms by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government would see an extra year added on by 2012. This increase would have to be implemented over time, starting in 2009.


The unions criticize the government for only taking into account the number of years of tax-payment, without considering particular difficulties of certain jobs or “Senior’s” work. In 2007, only 38.3 percent of French people over 55 were wage earners, compared with 44.7 percent in all the European Union. This, the unions say, indicates that the increase from 40-41 years in the work force will only succeed in lowering pension payouts.


The opposition spoke out in support to the movement. The Socialist Party said it stood by its “commitment to the option of retiring at 60, after 40 years in the work force,” while the Revolutionary Communist League said it supported “37.5 years of work for all.”


Government stands firm

The confrontation is only beginning. A reform passed in 2003 by the now Prime Minister François Fillion put forward further dates beyond 2012 and 2016, when the government will look at increasing the working period to 42 or even 43 years.


The government’s unwavering posture has declined to hear suggestions from the unions. Prime Minister Fillion reiterated that there was no way he would be swayed from increasing the tax-paying period to 41 years.


“Life expectancy is increasing at a rate of three months per year, which means that, under current laws, when one retires, he or she will spend an average of 22 years on a government pension,” government spokesman Luc Chatel said Wednesday.


The French Business Confederation, the largest union of employers in France, said that the gradual implementation of the change from 40-41 years is the “only scenario” that would help to address the problem of financing pensions.



Conflicting opinion polls

It is not clear if the strikes are widely supported across the country. Surveys published in French papers do not show on what side of the fence French public opinion falls. According to a survey conducted by Ifop-Jounral du Dimanche, 57 percent of those questioned think the strike is “not really” or “not al all” justified. On the other hand, a Viavoice poll for the daily Libération said 60 percent of French people were in support.

Date created : 2008-05-22