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French protest loss of pensions wages { October 2007 }

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French Civil Servants Strike Adds to Disruptions (Update2)
By Helene Fouquet

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- French teachers, doctors and other civil servants went on strike today, protesting President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to cut government jobs and tie wages to performance, adding to the disruption caused by the longest transport stoppage in more than a decade.

The walkout by civil service workers coincided with student protests over greater autonomy at universities and the seventh day of strikes by public transport workers that have disrupted train and bus services nationwide and, according to the finance ministry, cost up to 400 million euros ($589 million) a day.

The strike widens what has been the most-disruptive stoppage since 1995 as unions protest a plan to align transport workers' pensions with the rest of the country. The walkouts pose the biggest challenge to Sarkozy's efforts to keep campaign promises to deregulate labor and pensions. His approval rating fell 5 points this month to 51 percent, the lowest since he took office in May, a CSA survey showed yesterday.

``The participation will be strong,'' Budget Minister Eric Woerth told Le Parisien today. ``I know that French people are starting to be fed up,'' he said.

Air-traffic controllers, mail workers at La Poste, weathermen at Meteo France, state employment agency workers and the staff of the Bank of France are among public sector employees walking off the job today. Today's walkout is the third nationwide civil servants' strike this year.

Demonstrations Planned

The walkouts prompted a 45-minute delay for flights at Orly airport, a 30-minute delay at Charles de Gaulle and a similar slowdown at the sea-front Marseille airport, the national airports authority press office said.

The Ministry for National Education estimated that between 23 and 47 percent of school teachers are on strike. In Paris, 54 percent of the teachers walked out. La Poste said about 15 percent of its mailmen and women are on strike.

Strikers will start demonstrations in Paris and other French cities between midday and 2 p.m. local time. Unions are defending workers' standards of living, said Jean-Marc Canon, a representative of the Confederation Generale du Travail union.

Sarkozy's budget includes cuts in civil service jobs by 22,900 next year to curb spending and reduce the deficit to 2.3 percent of gross domestic product. The government said last month it will spend an extra 230 million euros to boost the pay of some public-sector workers. About 20 percent of France's 5 million civil servants will benefit from the plan.

Transport Strike

Woerth told Le Parisien his plan sees public workers earning between 260 euros and 500 euros more per year by working four more days and increased end-of-career wages. In a separate interview with France Inter radio today, he said ``civil servants don't earn much.''

Transport unions said yesterday they're willing to start talks on Sarkozy's plan to roll back their pension privileges. The reform would require them to work 40 years instead of 37.5 before getting a full pension.

The CGT, UNSA and SUD, along with other unions, said they'd take part in talks on Nov. 21 with management of state-owned railway SNCF, and possibly with government representatives.

State representatives may sit in on the meetings if more strikers go back to work and more trains, buses and metro lines are running, said Laurent Wauquiez, the government's spokesman, in an interview on RTL radio today.

``For everyone to come around the table everyone has to take a step forward,'' he said, adding that Sarkozy may comment on the strike ``at the end of the week,'' for the first time since workers walked out on Nov. 14.


Transport workers are among 500,000 state employees who escaped the first round of pension changes for the 5 million people employed by the public sector in 2003.

``I believe there are no more reasons for services to be blocked,'' Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a statement late yesterday. ``Talks are about to start, service has to resume progressively and users' rights have to be respected.''

For a seventh day, the transport strike brought bumper-to- bumper traffic around Paris. People rode bicycles or walked to work. The few metro lines and buses that were running were packed in the early hours today as commuters struggled to get to their offices or places of business.

RATP, the operator running Paris's 16 metro lines, commuters trains and buses said traffic will be ``very disrupted'' today. At 10.15 a.m., commuters had to wait between 5 minutes and an hour for a metro train. The automated line 14 ran normally. There are no trains to Charles de Gaulle airport, the company's Web site shows.

SNCF, the national railway said 330 out of 700 high-speed trains will run and the regional traffic will remain disrupted.

Counting Costs

RATP estimates the strike's cost at 24 million euros, Pierre Mongin, the head of the company told RTL radio on Nov. 18. Anne-Marie Idrac, president of the SNCF said the cost for her company after 5 days of strikes was above 100 million euros.

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde put the cost yesterday in a press conference at about 300 to 400 million euros a day, her press officer said, declining to be identified.

The SNCF strike may extend into Nov. 21, said Daniel Lapluie the deputy secretary general for the UNSA union's railway workers' branch.

``You don't just stop a strike that works well,'' he said over the telephone yesterday.

Workers at Electricite de France SA and Gaz de France SA reduced output by 5,000 megawatts at plants across France today, Claude Pommery, said a spokesman for the CGT union.

French university students continued to disrupt more than a third of the nation's campuses. Thirty-three universities out of the country's 82 faced disruptions, six of them were completely shut. Students will demonstrate, joining teachers in the civil servants' strike said Juliette Griffond, the spokeswoman for the Unef, the biggest students' union.

Last Updated: November 20, 2007 05:52 EST

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