French Unions Strike to Protest Retirement Reform; Travel Impact Limited

A national strike to protest the French government’s plans to raise the retirement age may have limited impact on travel today.

The CGT, France’s largest union, called for a nationwide protest against government plans to increase the retirement age above the current 60 years.

Demonstrations are planned through France, with a march in Paris this afternoon, said Bernard Thibault, secretary general of the Confederation Generale du Travail union, in a television interview on Canal Plus today. Meteofrance says it will rain throughout the day over most of France.

“We hope for more than 850,000” demonstration participants, Thibault said. “Most unions will be present today.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government is negotiating with unions to cut losses in the pension system. Labor Minister Eric Woerth said yesterday that “the only alternative is to condemn the French to even higher social charges and even higher taxes, and therefore even less employment.”

Railroad operator SNCF said high-speed trains are running near normally from Paris. International services to London, Brussels and Milan won’t be affected. Trains to Spain have been canceled, and about half of high speed trains between provincial cities have been canceled.

Most Paris commuter trains are running, it said.

Metro Near-Normal

The Paris metro is near normal, said the RATP, which manages transport in the Paris area, as is the RER “A” fast- speed line. The RER “B,” which runs to the capital’s two main airports, is running at two-thirds service.

“We are asking the government very clearly to renounce their abandonment of the 60-year benchmark,” said Francois Chereque, head of France’s biggest union, the Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail, in an interview today in Les Echos.

France’s aviation authority asked airlines to cut 10 percent of flights at Charles de Gaulle and 30 percent at Orly airport this morning because of striking air-traffic controllers. Air France said all its long-haul flights will run, as will 95 percent of short and-medium-distance flights from Charles de Gaulle and 80 percent from Orly.

‘Special Regimes’

Woerth suggested that any change in the retirement age wouldn’t immediately affect transport workers, who have their own special retirement systems.

Changes to the so-called “special regimes,” which cover workers at the SNCF and RATP as well electrical utility Electricite de France SA, were agreed to in 2007. They extended the number of working years required for a pension without touching the official retirement age.

“The engagements we took in 2007 will be respected,” Woerth said yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net.

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