Some 2,000 protesters in Paris faced off against riot police outside the French Senate Tuesday as lawmakers inside debated a bill that would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Labour Minister Eric Woerth says the government will not back down.
REUTERS - A new clash over the government bid to raise the retirement age in France to 62 is in the works, with a top public transport union announcing on Tuesday plans for an open-ended strike as debate on the measure opened in the Senate.
Some 2,000 protesters faced off riot police outside the Senate building in the Luxembourg Gardens in a display of the bitterness the bill is provoking by chiseling away at cherished gains, widely seen as rights.
Labor Minister Eric Woerth, addressing the upper house of parliament, said the government won't budge on its plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 ''because this measure is essential to balancing the system.''
Three days after the third nationwide demonstration in a month to protest the bill, Woerth said that he ''hears,'' ''respects'' and ''takes into account'' the concerns of the French. But, he added, ''there is no miracle solution'' to filling empty state coffers.
The reform's aim is make the money-draining pension system break even by 2018. Though the minimum retirement age would be 62, people would have to wait until age 67 if they want full pension benefits, up from age 65 today.
The UNSA-Transport union that represents most Metro drivers and many bus drivers and suburban Paris trains said it plans to file its notice of an unlimited strike starting Oct. 12 when a new round of demonstrations is planned. At least three other unions have announced similar strike plans.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has called the bill his top priority for the rest of his term, which ends in 2012. France is among many indebted European countries trying to scale back spending, and says its money-losing pension system will collapse without reform.
Unions see retirement at 60 as a firmly entrenched right, and have hobbled transport with two nationwide strikes in a month over the measure and rallied 1 million people to the streets in recent protests.
Dominique Leclerc, a senator from the governing UMP party sponsoring the bill in the upper house, said in an interview with Associated Press Television News that despite the protests reflection is in order.
''We all have to be realistic. If we don't change anything, if nothing is done, the whole pension system ... is endangered,'' Leclerc said.
''Not going ahead would be a poisoned gift we make to coming generations,'' he said. ``I can't imagine stopping the process.''
Some 1,200 amendments have been attached to the bill, already passed in the lower house. Pensions for women is one area where the government is opento adjusting the measure, and Woerth, the labor minister, told senators that "pension inequalities between men and women are obviously an injustice. It's ''incontestable.''
Woerth's speech was briefly interrupted as a handful of leftist lawmakers opened a banner reading ''Monsieurs Sarkozy and Woerth, listen to the people, withdraw your bill.''
Senate debate on the bill is expected to continue until Oct. 15.
Date created : 2010-10-05