France: Strikes costing up to $557 million per day

Sarkozy remains determined to reform retirement system despite 9,000 tons of uncollected garbage, 25% of gas stations dry.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
October 25, 2010 18:12
2 minute read.
People walk near piles of garbage in Marseille, so

French Garbage 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

PARIS— France's massive strikes are costing the national economy up to euro400 million ($557 million) each day, the French finance minister said Monday as workers continued to block oil refineries and trash incinerators to protest a plan to raise the retirement age to 62.

Rotting piles of garbage — now at nearly 9,000 tons — are becoming a health hazard in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, which has been hit hard on land and at sea. Striking dockers at France's largest port are intermittently blocking ships trying to unload fuel there.

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France's 12 striking refineries have been shut down for nearly two weeks, and the government has forced some of them to make stocked fuel available, but at least one in four gas stations in France has run dry.

President Nicolas Sarkozy stood firm amid the growing pressure, determined to reform the retirement system to ensure funds for future generations as life expectancy increases and the nation's debt soars.

The bill to overhaul France's pension plan is to be definitively voted on this week by the two houses of parliament, likely by Wednesday, officials said after a meeting of a committee that wrote a final version of the legislation to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. It is all but certain to pass.

"We must be aware that in a world without borders we can't have a French exception ... that exists nowhere else," said lawmaker Pierre Mehaignerie, of Sarkozy's UMP party.

Strikers were clearly counting on derailing the measure before it is signed into law after this week's final voting.

Garbage and gas are critical weapons for the strikers, who decry the reform as unjust. Besides raising the minimum retirement age to 62, it increases the age to access full retirement benefits from 65 to 67. It was only in 1982 that French employees won the right to retire at 60, and since then it has been considered a well-earned right.

"We aren't going to work on the docks until 65. It's just not possible," said Frederic Chabert, 47, at Fos-sur-Mer, a Marseille area port. Strikers unblocked the town's fuel depot Monday after negotiations with regional officials.


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