|A 24-hour strike protesting against the pension bill disrupted public transports across France on September 23 [EPA]
Labour unions are staging rallies in France, protesting against the government's plan to raise the minimum retirement age.
Demonstrations have begun in cities like Saint-Etienne, Clermont-Ferrand, Calais and Aix-en-Provence ahead of the main demonstration to be held in Paris on Saturday afternoon.
Unions are hoping to bring millions onto the streets for the latest protest, the third over the last month but the first on a weekend.
"Those who cannot demonstrate during the week because they're working in small businesses and can't afford to stop will be on the street," Francois Chereque of the biggest CFDT union said.
The government is planning to raise the minimum legal retirement age to 62 from 60 and the age at which people can retire on a full pension to 67 from 65.
The pension reform bill is a major part of the the plan to balance the system's finances by 2018 and reduce debts bloated by the recession of 2008-2009. The bill has already been passed by the lower house of parliament and is expected to pass the upper house easily on Tuesday.
The CGT union said 229 separate rallies would be held around the country. A survey published by French daily newspaper L'Humanite showed more than 70 per cent of people backed the day of action.
Rallies on September 23 ended up as an argument over how many people took part: police said numbers were down from the previous September 7 protest at around one million, unions said they were up at three million.
The Senate - the upper house of parliament - has said it will offer minor concessions on the controversial bill but has ruled out any changes to its key features.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, has said the French would have nothing to worry about concerning their retirements and pensions once the reform measure is passed.
"I am listening to the protesters, I understand their anger, but the role of the head of state is to fulfil his responsibilities," Sarkozy said on Friday.
"The pension reform and budget cuts are essential for our competitivity."