Pension reform passed


The French Senate approved an unpopular pension reform today 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.

"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 today, 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 October 28th and November 6th.

"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 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.