French unions unbowed as pension reform edges into law

French unions took their battle against extending retirement from 60 to 62 to the courts.

Paris: French unions took their battle
against extending retirement from 60 to 62 to the courts
on Saturday, challenging orders to return to work the day after the
Senate passed the fiercely contested law.

Unions showed no sign of giving up the fight and have
vowed more days of action in their months-long struggle
against the bill whose passage into law the government hopes
will end protests that brought millions onto the streets.

The vote late yesterday all but sealed the reform, the
centrepiece of President Nicolas Sarkozy`s agenda, and
government expects the text to be reconciled with a lower
house version before being definitively adopted on Wednesday.

Protests against the law have become the biggest
battle of the right-wing president`s first term. With his poll
ratings at an all-time low, he staked his credibility on a
reform he says is essential to reduce France`s public deficit.

Opponents say the reforms unjustly penalise workers
for the failures of global finance and have called instead for
tax rises on banks and the rich.

Strike action by railway, metro and utility workers
has eased, but all 12 French oil refineries are still affected
and workers at the key Grandpuits site that supplies Paris
took legal action against orders to return to work.

Riot police were sent in to clear pickets blocking the
site early yesterday, but staff who had been ordered back to
work downed tools again overnight after a judge ruled the
government`s "requisitioning" had been illegal.

The requisition order can be issued by French
authorities when they believe a strike poses a threat to
public order. It compels strikers to return to work, under
threat of prosecution.

But a court in nearby Melun agreed with unions that
the order was "a serious and obvious infringement on the right
to strike and its implementation should be suspended," said a
copy of the ruling seen by a news agency.

The judge said the prefect, or central government`s
local representative, had erred by requisitioning virtually
all the workers at the refinery which meant the site was
running normally.

The authorities immediately issued another
requisition order at the plant that supplies the Paris region
with 70 percent of its fuel, which the unions were appealing
against today.


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