PARIS (Reuters) - France’s CGT trade union will propose a new national day of protests against an unpopular pension reform, even as the government hopes to move on from the issue, the union’s head told Reuters on Wednesday.
CGT head Bernard Thibault said protests over a two-year increase in the retirement age would not end until President Nicolas Sarkozy invites unions for talks on modifying the legislation, which should be signed into law in the coming days.
“Whatever the government thinks, the issue of pension reform is far from over,” Thibault said in an interview at the union’s headquarters in eastern Paris.
“Even when it signs this into law, the protests will drag on the government like a ball and chain for a very long time.”
Unions will meet on Thursday to agree on further action against the pension reform and how to proceed after Saturday, when they have scheduled another day of countrywide demonstrations, the eighth day since the summer of joint action between the CGT, the more moderate CFDT union and other unions.
Thibault said the CGT, the more militant of France’s two main unions, wanted to call a further day of protests later in November.
Sarkozy’s flagship pension reform prompted French unions to organize some of the biggest protest demonstrations in Europe since the start of the financial crisis.
Yet despite drawing millions of marchers to the street, badly disrupting fuel supplies with strikes and enjoying broad support in opinion polls, the unions have not stopped parliament from approving the reform.
The reform will raise the minimum retirement age to receive a state pension to 62 from 60, and the age to receive a full pension to 67 from 65. Sarkozy says the unpopular measure is necessary to save France’s public finances from disaster.
Thibault said Sarkozy was mistaken in thinking he could turn the page on the pension showdown with a cabinet reshuffle later this month. French media are speculating that Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, a popular centrist with good union relations, could be elevated to prime minister to restore social dialogue.
“The movement is not finished,” Thibault said. “It will take much more than just a reshuffle, or the appointment of this person or that person, it will take content.”
A lack of concessions made under the pension law to people working in physically hard sectors, like construction, meant localized strikes could break out on a company-by-company basis in the weeks and months ahead, Thibault added.
Sarkozy’s refusal to negotiate over the retirement age had damaged the relationship between unions and the government, and only a review of the pension system could mend it, he added.
Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Peter Graff