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Senate passes controversial pension reform bill

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-10-23

The French Senate on Friday approved raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 after protracted debate that has led to a series of nationwide strikes, fuel blockades and riots.

The French Senate gave a final vote of approval on Friday to an unpopular pension reform bill that has caused a series of nationwide strikes and protest marches.
Senators voted 177 for and 153 against the legislation to raise the retirement age, after the government used a special measure to speed the voting process.

“It’s a victory for a certain form of political courage,” declared Eric Woerth after the vote. The Minister of Labour, Public Accounts and the Civil Service displayed his satisfaction after the session: “We spent…roughly 150 hours in the Senate convincing people and working on this reform,” he told FRANCE 24. “France had to engage in reforms and we did it responsibly. It allows us to save our retirement system. We live longer, it’s normal to work a bit longer”.

The bill now needs a joint parliamentary commission to rubber stamp changes from the original text, and approval from the constitutional council, the highest constitutional authority in France.

A fresh wave of strikes and protests

On Thursday, French unions called for fresh strikes on October 28 and November 6.

“We want these days of strikes and demonstrations to be huge,” Nadine Prigent of the CGT union, told FRANCE 24. “What we are saying to workers is that we can still stop these reforms.”

CGT union leader Bernard Thibault told RMC Radio on Thursday: “There is no reason at all to stop. There is no other alternative while the government remains intransigent.”

The French government, however, vowed to stand firm in the face of determined opposition to its deeply unpopular pension reform.

Early on Friday morning, CRS riot police arrived at an oil refinery at Grandpuits near Paris to break one of the many blockades that have caused huge disruption to petrol deliveries across the country. The blockades have also caused electricity shortages.

The officers were enforcing a government order to force the strikers who had been camping out outside the depot for days, to allow the refinery to restart deliveries of much-needed fuel.

Known as a "requisition", the order can be issued by the authorities when they believe a strike poses a threat to public order.

It compels strikers to return to work, under threat of prosecution.

Union representatives at the site said at least three people had been injured in scuffles with the police and vowed to challenge the police enforcement.

Charles Foulard, CGT union representative for employees of the Total group, told FRANCE 24: “We will be taking this to the courts. Clearly we want to challenge the legality of this takeover.

“It is a direct obstruction of our right to strike.”

Between 20 and 21 percent of petrol stations across France were empty on Friday, Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said.

The government also announced on Friday that while getting the situation back to normal would take "several days", there were no plans for rationing and motorway service stations were top priority as families prepare for the half-term school holidays.

Date created : 2010-10-22


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