Mass protests in France against retirement at 62

PARIS (AFP) – French unions stage another day of protests and strikes Thursday, hoping to bring more than two million onto the streets to defy President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to hike the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Sarkozy, already under attack from the European Union for deporting Roma and from the media over a lingering financial scandal, is facing fierce opposition to his pension reform plans, but says he will press on regardless.

People protest against a government pension reform bill on September 15 near the National Assembly in Paris. AFP

The issue is central to both his reform programme and his personal political survival strategy, with less than two years to go before he seeks re-election.

Between one and three million French workers took to the streets two weeks ago to fight the reforms and now unions are hoping for an even bigger day of demonstrations to keep the right to retire at the age of 60.

But the pension reform bill has already been passed by France's lower house of parliament and will be debated from October 5 by the upper house, the Senate, where it is expected to pass comfortably.

Walkouts will hit schools and transport hardest, with only around one train in two running nationally, although Eurostar services to London and Thalys trains to Brussels are predicted to be normal.

The rail slowdown started on Wednesday evening and was expected to continue until early Friday.

Fifty percent of flights at Paris Orly are to be cancelled and 40 percent at the capital's Charles de Gaulle airport -- more than the 25-percent cancelled on September 7, said the DGAC civil aviation authority.

Around 40 percent of flights at other airports will be cancelled, it said.

French men and women can under current rules retire at 60, but they only get a full pension if they have paid social security contributions for a given period, which for most people now in work is 40.5 years.

Under the new law, the number of years needed to get a full pension is due to increase in stages to 41.5 years, and the minimum retirement age is to go up to 62.

The age at which retirees can get a full state pension even if they have not paid the required number of years is currently 65. The new law calls for this to increase gradually to 67 by 2018.

Unions and opposition politicians say the plan puts an unfair burden on workers, particularly women, part-timers and the former unemployed who might struggle to hit the 41.5 year requirment.

They have made counter proposals including calls for taxes on certain bonuses and on the highest incomes to help fund the pension system.

The government argues that the reform could save 70 billion euros (90 billion dollars) by 2030 at a time when France's public deficit -- at around eight percent of GDP -- is well above the eurozone target of three percent.

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