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Travellers warned over French strikes

Travellers warned over French strikes

Visitors to France are being warned to expect severe disruption today, as eight of the largest unions in the country call workers out on strike.

In a lingering dispute over pensions – which will see the minimum retirement age raise from 60 to 62 – rail and aviation workers are expected to join the protestors.

Changes to the French pension system are seen as the cornerstone of fiscal reforms sought by president Sarkozy. The changes are designed to balance the books of the pension system by 2018. 

However, unions are stepping up the pressure on the French following a decision to accept the pensions bill by the National Assembly last week.

The bill will now head to the senate for a debate starting on October 5th.

France has committed to cutting the public deficit – mirroring action taken across Europe - from a projected eight per cent of gross domestic product this year to six per cent next year, 4.6 per cent in 2012 and three per cent in 2013—the maximum under euro-zone treaties.

Staking his credibility on the move, Mr Sarkozy said: “The pension reform is one of the most important reforms for France.

“At a time when one pension out of ten is funded by debt, our goal is to make sure the pensions of French people and their children are properly financed.”

President Sarkozy has staked his reputation on fiscal reform

Industrial Action

However, there has been stiff opposition in across the country.

More than a million French workers took to the streets in protest at the proposed changes two weeks ago, with unions hoping for an even bigger day of demonstrations today.

“The priority is to widen mobilisation,” said Bernhard Thibault, the head of the Confederation Generale du Travail (GCT) union.

Unions, often joined by opposition politicians, argue the plan puts an unfair burden on French workers.

Counter proposals include calls for taxes on certain bonuses and on the highest incomes to help fund the pension system.

Widespread disruption to aviation is expected, with air traffic controllers among those taking to the picket lines.