REFILE-WRAPUP 6-French pension bill passes, unions to battle on

* Pension bill passes final vote in French Senate

* Unions call two further days of strike action

* Police clear access to refinery supplying Paris

(Refiles to fix cross-head)

By Nick Vinocur and John Irish

PARIS, Oct 22 (BestGrowthStock) – The French Senate approved an
unpopular pension reform on Friday in a victory for President
Nicolas Sarkozy, although unions opposed to raising the
retirement age have vowed to keep fighting it.

Senators voted 177 in favour and 153 against the bill after
the conservative government used a special measure to speed up
the debate in the upper house, having had to send in police to
break up long-running blockades of fuel depots.

The law to make French people work two more years for their
pensions has been one of the most fiercely contested reforms
among austerity measures being taken across Europe.

The Senate approval means it should pass quickly into law
following signatures from a joint parliamentary council and a
constitutional council on the final text.

For take-a-look on French pension protests, click on


For interactive map of European strikes, click on

For charts on retirement ages across Europe, click on

For an interactive “misery index” for the euro zone, click on

For map showing refineries supplied from Fos-Lavera,

“It is not by hanging on symbols of the past that we will
remain a great nation,” Eric Woerth, the labour minister in
charge of pushing the reform, said in a speech to the Senate
shortly before the vote.

Earlier on Friday, police rushed picket lines near Paris to
break up a blockade of the main oil refinery supplying the
capital as unions hardened their stance with further strike
action in key sectors of Europe’s second-largest economy.

Signalling their determination to keep fighting the bill
after it becomes law, France’s six main unions have called for
two more days of protest action on Oct. 28 and Nov. 6.

“The protests are not stopping, we just have different views
on how to proceed,” Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the more radical
Force Ouvriere union told RMC radio. “We still think that
demonstrating is not enough … we have to ramp it up … we
need a strong day of public and private sector strikes.”

The government appeared equally determined.

Police in wielding riot shields cleared pickets and burning
tyres at dawn at Total’s (TOTF.PA: ) Grandpuits oil refinery
southeast of Paris. Scuffles broke out at the plant and one
person was carried away on a stretcher after being trampled.

Analysts did not expect the strikes to have any lasting
impact on sentiment towards French debt. France comfortably sold
short-term paper on Thursday though it paid a premium from
previous issues on what analysts said may be fleeting concerns
over its ability to enforce austerity measures. [nLDE69K1M4]

“The crisis to date has had next-to-no impact on bond
spreads in France,” said Julian Jessop, chief international
economist at Capital Economics. “I think there’s a perception in
the markets that this is just the French being French ….”


Sarkozy has been under pressure to end the long-running
impasse with the unions before half-term school holidays
beginning this weekend. His popularity ratings are near an
all-time low 18 months before a presidential election in which
he is widely expected to seek a second term.

In addition to transport disruption, Sarkozy is battling
11-day-old strikes at the country’s 12 oil refineries and fuel
depot blockades that Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said
forced the closure of one in five petrol stations.

Jean-Louis Schilansky, head of oil sector lobby UFIP, told
reporters after meeting Prime Minister Francois Fillon that
there was enough fuel to last for several weeks or months by
increasing imports and pooling reserves.

“Sarkozy has declared war,” said Charles Foulard, leader of
the oil sector workers at the communist-led CGT union.

Sarkozy says the reform is the only way to limit ballooning
pension shortfalls and protect the coveted “AAA” credit rating
that allows France to borrow at favourable interest rates.

“If the French are not careful, they will soon join the
PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) as the
troubled economies of Europe,” said professor Anthony Sabino, at
St. John’s University in New York.

The government is aiming to cut the deficit to 6.0 percent
of gross domestic product next year based on an economic growth
forecast of 2 percent in the first phase of a plan to trim the
budget gap to the EU’s 3.0 percent limit by 2013.


Sarkozy’s pension bill raises the minimum retirement age to
62 from 60 and the age for a full pension to 67 from 65. The
government hopes protests will now start to fade away.

Even with the reform, France will have one of the lowest
minimum retirement ages in Europe. The broader measures Sarkozy
is pushing through to cut the deficit are far milder than in
countries such as Britain, which unveiled 80 billion pounds
($126 billion) in spending cuts this week.

Yet a poll for Canal Plus television broadcast on Friday
showed an increase in support for the strikes from six days ago
with 70 percent of French backing the industrial action. Polls
show most people are against Sarkozy’s pension bill.

Unions are betting that involving high school and university
students — thousands of whom demonstrated on Thursday — and
private sector workers could tip the scales and force the
government to back down, as it did 15 years ago in the face of
mass protests and transport strikes against pension reform.

But the number of young protesters remains far smaller than
in 1995 or 2006 and the transport disruption less widespread.

Flare-ups of violence by masked youths in the central city
of Lyon and in the Paris suburb of Nanterre have also blemished
the peaceful and disciplined image of the protest movement.

Unions said marches this week drew some 3.5 million people,
but the government put the number at just over a million.
(Additional reporting by Elisabeth Pineau and Henri-Pierre
Andre; Editing by David Stamp)

REFILE-WRAPUP 6-French pension bill passes, unions to battle on