French Strike Extended as Sarkozy, Unions See No Common Ground


French unions have called for public transport workers to strike for a third day tomorrow to pressure the government to drop plans to increase the retirement age, even as fewer employees stayed away from work today.

Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner, started to halt operations at all its French plants following the strike, increasing the likelihood of fuel shortages. With the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy maintaining that it won’t back down on plans to raise the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60, the stalemate looked set to continue.

“He has not budged from his position,” Bernard Thibault, who heads the Confederation Generale du Travail labor union, said today on Canal Plus television channel. “His point of departure in ‘no negotiations.’ We will continue.”

The government says the changes are needed to help France cope with an aging population and help balance the pension system’s budget by 2018. The pensions’ system reform is part of the broader government’s struggle to cut down the budget deficit.

This year the gap will stand at 7.7 percent and Sarkozy’s minister plan to cut it down to 92 billion euros ($125 billion), or 6 percent of gross domestic product, next year.

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