Striking oil refinery workers protesting the reforms caused nationwide fuel shortages [AFP]

France's parliament has given its final approval to a bill that will raise the age of retirement from 60 to 62, a reform that has sparked weeks of strikes and protests.

The National Assembly gave the green light to the final text of the bill on Wednesday, but it will not be signed into law by Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, for several weeks.

Despite the development, unions have called for a ninth day of action on Thursday including strikes and protest marches.

"The great reform that was announced has turned into a pitiful legislative pumpkin," Marisol Touraine, an opposition Socialist MP, said in an address to Eric Woerth, France's labour minister and architect of the law.

"You dreamt of reforming audacity and you've found yourselves with a country in crisis," she said.

Jean Leonetti, of Sarkozy's UMP party, said that the law was a "victory of public interest".

Sarkozy's supporters have pointed to a loss of momentum in recent days from the protest movement as evidence that the striking workers and students had failed.

Protests since the start of September repeatedly brought more than one million people onto the streets.

But Thursday's rally falls during the French half-term school holidays, and the president's camp is hoping that this, alongside the passage of the law, will see the protest movement ending and a slow return to normal.

Earlier this week, rubbish collectors and oil refinery workers at around half the country's depots agreed to return to work, with some unions admitting that a change of tactic was needed.

Strikes had previously threatened to cripple the country, with major fuel shortages reported nationwide and public transport services disrupted.

Source: Agencies