French unions plan new strikes over retirement

French President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to press ahead with his contested overhaul of the country`s pension system and unions promptly announced new national strikes and protests.

Last Updated: Sep 09, 2010, 00:02 AM IST

Paris: French President Nicolas Sarkozy
vowed on Wednesday to press ahead with his contested overhaul of the
country`s pension system and unions promptly announced new
national strikes and protests, a day after bringing more than
1 million people to the streets.

The conservative leader said he is "attentive to
the worries that were expressed" by protesters, who protested
in 220 French cities yesterday. But Sarkozy reiterated it was
"out of the question" to give up on the plan to raise the
retirement age from 60 to 62 under the reform.

With baby boomers reaching retirement age and life
expectancy on the rise, the government insists the raised
retirement age is necessary, so the money-draining pension
system can break even by 2018. The reform is seen as a
cornerstone of Sarkozy`s political agenda and a key test for
the conservative French leader ahead of 2012 presidential
elections.

Unions said it`s a threat to hard-won social
benefits and want the reform drastically scaled back.

Mobilized by yesterday`s protests, six leading unions met
today and announced new nationwide strikes and demonstrations
for Sept. 23.

Speaking today during a Cabinet meeting, Sarkozy
conceded the government`s willingness to negotiate on smaller
details of the reform, including measures for the disabled and
people in physically difficult professions. Sarkozy`s office
reported his remarks in a statement.

The reform is "a lasting and just response that
will allow us to save our pension system," government
spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters following the Cabinet
meeting.

Chatel added that Labour Minister Eric Woerth has
been charged with amending the bill to reflect the small
changes, which is to be voted on by the National Assembly, the
lower house of parliament, next week.

PTI