Paris, Oct 20 (IANS) The protests by French labour unions against President Nocolas Sarkozy’s pension overhaul plan entered its second week Wednesday, thwarting fuel and other supplies and disrupting normal life across the country.
Sarkozy has proposed increasing the standard, minimum retirement age to 62 years, from a current level of 60, in order to bridge a growing shortfall in the country’s pension funds. But the confrontation with unions is proving a major test for the president who is determined to press ahead with his plan, the Wall street Journal reported.
‘The biggest problem would be if I failed to do my duty, to make sure that we can pay for today’s and tomorrow’s pensions,’ Sarkozy told journalists during a briefing in the northern French city of Deauville.
Sarkozy said French people can’t afford to retire earlier than most of their EU neighbours, which have cut pension benefits or raised future retirement ages in accordance with rising life expectancies.
French people so far have shown sympathy for worker protests, according to several opinion polls. But as the strikes continue and become more crippling, with sporadic violence, the tide may turn in favour of Sarkozy, the paper said.
‘The more radical the protests get, the better for Mr. Sarkozy,’ said Francois Miquet-Marty of French polling group Viavoice. ‘French people don’t like it when strikes disrupt their everyday life.’
Meanwhile, labour unions Tuesday organised a sixth day of nationwide marches in two months, saying they want the standard age of retirement to remain at 60.
The protests caused disruption in the public transport system and closure of education institutions. Between a third and half of flights to and from Paris’ main airports were cancelled. In Lyon and in the Paris suburbs, several cars were burned when youth clashed with riot police.
The main cause of crippling disruption is refinery workers, who have been on strike for more than a week. French motorists are struggling to fill their tanks as about a third of France’s 12,500 gas stations have run dry, the government said.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday that the government would step in to unblock fuel depots and promised gasoline supply would return to normal within four or five days.
French government officials said they expected protests would wane when the pension bill is approved by parliament, possibly later this month, and when many people go on vacation next week. But the union leaders said they were determined to protest further.