French Pension Reform Unrest Likely to Continue

May 15, 2003 ( - Turmoil continued in France over a proposed public-employee pension reform that would cut worker benefits, even as the government tried to engage labor unions in settlement talks.

>The controversial reforms would not only cut benefits but also require public employees to make more payments into the pension system for a longer period than they do now, according to a New York Times report. The government minister for labor and social affairs, François Fillon, told a session of the Senate that there existed no alternative to the government’s basic proposals since, without them, the system faces collapse in coming years.

>In any event, government settlement efforts didn’t appear to be working. Leaders of the five main labor organizations announced plans for May 25 nationwide demonstrations in the hopes of getting the government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to withdraw the reform package. Government gas and electricity workers and schoolteachers have announced walkouts for Monday. France has been slowed since earlier this week by a strike by many other government employees, including hospital, university and transit workers.

>The gravest effects of the strike have been felt in Paris, where subways, buses and suburban rail transport were largely shut down and many flights were canceled at the capital’s two airports. At the same time, leaders of three of the more hard-line labor unions, including the Workers’ Force and the General Confederation of Labor, called for further strikes after the first call brought more than one million supporters into the streets.

>François Chérèque, the head of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, the largest union, said Raffarin had made “a certain number of advances, but at this stage they are not enough.”