WRAPUP 4-French fuel strikes falter, union wants talks

* Unions keen for talks with employers on job terms

* Refinery strikes lose steam, 2010 GDP growth seen intact

* Fewer students join street marches

(Adds Sarkozy adviser on unions, detail, changes byline)

By Emmanuel Jarry and Catherine Bremer

PARIS, Oct 26 (BestGrowthStock) – Oil refinery strikes in protest
against French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s unpopular pension
reform eased on Tuesday, with walkouts ending at several plants
and unions sounding more open to talks with employers.

In another sign that long-running public protests against a
two-year rise in the retirement age are losing steam, only a few
hundred students showed up for street marches in Paris and other
cities, the number reduced by half-term autumn holidays.

Sarkozy’s flagship reform — to make people work two years
longer for their pensions — has met fierce opposition in some
of the most sustained protests in Europe against austerity
measures designed to rein in swollen deficits.

The bill has passed through parliament and is on its way to
being signed into law, and the powerful CFDT union says it is
ready for talks on employment terms for youths and senior
citizens, suggesting a corner has been turned in the dispute.

Labour Minister Eric Woerth and junior employment minister
Laurent Wauquiez said they supported a suggestion made by CFDT
head Francois Chereque to MEDEF employers’ group head Laurence
Parisot on France 2 television late on Monday that the two sides
talk about terms of employment for youths and older people.

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For all stories on the French protests: [ID:nLDE69H1EP]

Graphic on fuel shortages: http://link.reuters.com/hut69p

Map of European strikes: http://r.reuters.com/war95p

European retirement ages: http://link.reuters.com/dez28p

Euro zone “misery index”: http://r.reuters.com/wew88p

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Sarkozy’s social affairs adviser, Raymond Soubie, told
Reuters he saw dialogue taking off as protest action winds down.

“For the future we need to find new themes and new methods.
We need to be a bit inventive,” he said. “I think, as Francois
Chereque suggested and Laurence Parisot accepted, we need to
restart negotiations between the unions and employers.”

Fuel is now leaving four of France’s dozen oil refineries as
barricades have been lifted. Workers at three refineries have
ended their two-week strike action, though port strikes were
still preventing crude oil from reaching them.

Train services were nearly back to normal, and petrol pump
shortages were easing as the government increased fuel imports
from elsewhere in Europe.

“We are in a new phase but a new phase does not mean
everything is over,” Chereque said. “The president has the power
to adjourn the debate, because a law can always be perfected.”

SOCIALISTS SEEK LAST CHALLENGE

The Senate, with a few hundred students demonstrating
peacefully outside, voted 177-151 to pass the latest version of
the pension bill. The text goes to the lower house on Wednesday
but its signing into law could be stalled until November as the
opposition Socialists plan to challenge its legality with the
constitutional court, which must also ratify it.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said strikers should now back
down as the protest movement “no longer has any meaning”.

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, who has estimated the
cost of the refinery strikes at 200-400 million euros a day in
lost production, said that should not knock France’s 2010 growth
off course. She also praised the CFDT’s gesture to MEDEF.

“I salute the return to reason and to dialogue,” Lagarde
told Radio Classique. “To put talks on the table, to discuss
youth employment, senior citizen employment and examine the
underlying problems that are worrying young and old people,
that’s really a turning point and I think it’s a good thing.”

Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said supply was back to
normal at around 80 percent of the country’s petrol stations.

The UFIP oil lobby said France had imported 100,000 tonnes
of fuel products a day over the past week, up from 25,000 tonnes
a day in normal times.

In the southern city of Marseille, garbage collectors went
back to work after a two-week strike and began clearing some
10,000 tonnes of maggot-infested refuse piled in the streets.

A surge of families leaving town for half-term school
holidays put extra pressure on petrol pumps at the weekend,
fraying people’s patience with the fuel shortages.

An Ifop opinion poll on Tuesday showed that 59 percent of
those surveyed were opposed to fuel depot blockades.

Sarkozy, whose popularity ratings are at all-time lows 18
months before a presidential election, is keen to put the
pension reform battle behind him and turn the page with some
small social reforms and moves to appease unions, aides say.

The quiet student marches were a relief for the government
which was embarrassed last week by TV images of fuel depot
barricades and torched cars on the fringes of some protests.

Trade unions have called for two more days of natiownide
strikes and street protests on Oct. 28 and Nov. 6.

Seven refineries remain blockaded and dock workers are still
on strike at key oil ports at Marseille in the south and Le
Havre in the north. Some 3.8 million tonnes of crude, refined
products, chemicals and LPG gas were stuck in vessels off the
Fos-Lavera terminal at Marseille.

Sarkozy’s pension law will raise the minimum and full
retirement ages to 62 from 60 and to 67 from 65 respectively, a
measure he says is necessary to rein in a growing pension
shortfall and reassure markets France can control its deficit.
(Additional reporting by Emile Picy, Nicholas Vinocur, Gus
Trompiz, Vicky Buffery and John Irish; editing by Tim Pearce)

WRAPUP 4-French fuel strikes falter, union wants talks