France faces another day of strikes

Hundreds of passengers affected after protesters blockade Marseille airport as rallies against pension reform continue.

    Passengers racing to catch flights were forced to leave their cars and walk to Marseille airport [Reuters]

    France is preparing for another day of confrontation as strikes continue ahead of a senate vote on changes to the pensions system. 

    Oil refinery and port workers were among 500 protesters that blocked access to Marseille airport on Thursday, the eighth consecutive day of demonstrations against a bill that would raise the minimum retirement ages by two years to 62 and the age fore receiving a full state pension to 67.

    Police broke up the blockade after around 09:00 local time (08:00 GMT), but strikers warned they would return.

    "We're not here to fight or get injured. There are women and children with us. We're leaving quietly, but
    we'll go somewhere else. And when they go somewhere else, so will we," a union official told Reuters TV.

    Staff from the L'Etang-de-Beurre refinery had been joined by airline and postal workers outside the airport in the southern port city.

    The blockade caused massive traffic jams around the airport, forcing hundreds of passengers to leave their cars and walk at least one kilometre to the entrance.

    Petrol shortages

    On Wednesday, authorities forced open oil refineries blockaded by protesters to restore supplies to empty petrol stations nationwide.

    About one-quarter of petrol stations had run dry, while strikes and protests brought transport systems to a halt.

    Pension Reform

     

      Under current rules, the French can retire at 60, providing they have paid social security contributions for 40.5 years.
      Retirees are entitled to a full pension when they are 65.
      The planned reform would raise the minimum retirement age to 62 by 2018, the qualification to 41.5 years, and the pension age to 67.
      Officials say the reforms would save about $95bn.

    Trade unions, backed by large public support, are fighting the overhaul and will meet on Thursday to decide upon their next move. Students are planning a day of protests in Paris, the capital.

    However, the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, has said that it will not back down.

    The main points of the pension bill have already passed through both houses of France's parliament and, following the next senate vote, could soon be signed into law.

    The government says the pensions overhaul will prevent the pension system from going bankrupt as citizens live longer and a diminishing pool of young workers pay into the system. 

    It argues that 62 is among the lowest retirement ages in the world, that the French are living much longer than they used to and that the pension system is losing money.

    Unions claim the move would erode France's near-sacred tradition of generous social benefits including long vacations, contracts that make it hard for employers to lay off workers and a state-subsidised health care system in favour of "American-style capitalism."

    About 1.1 million people joined 260 protest marches across France on Tuesday, according to the interior ministry, though trade unions put the figure at three times that.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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