Monday, October 25, 2010

Fuel blockade lifted in France, but shortages continue

Paris : Strikes over President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reform plan continued to affect petrol stations across France on Monday, but the situation appeared to be improving.

The UFIP organization representing fuel suppliers said the blockade of petrol depots had been lifted, but there were still long queues of trucks waiting to take on deliveries.

Every third petrol station had little or no fuel because of the work stoppages, which have also affected rail transport and shut down petrol refineries.

The strikes, which began on October 12, have cost the country 3 billion euros (4.2 billion dollars), according to government estimates.

Experts believe the dispute is costing the French economy between 200—400 million euros a day, Economics Minister Christine Lagarde told Europe 1 radio.

Mr. Lagarde said the chemical industry was badly affected by the dispute, warning that if it continued it could have negative consequences on France's attractiion for investors.

The reform gradually raises the earliest retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2018. For people who have not paid enough into to the state—pension fund the retirement age moves up from 65 to 67.

Before the pension reform becomes law, it must still be approved by a parliamentary committee and voted again by a joint session of parliament.

The committee began drafting the final text on Monday, with the Senate expected to approve it Tuesday and the National Assembly a day later.

Trade unions want the strike to continue unabated this week.

Students have called a massive demonstration for Tuesday and widescale protests and strikes are planned for Thursday.

In addition to extending the retirement age, the reform also envisages are higher taxes for top earners and on capital gains.

France's state pension system is in deficit to the tune of 32 billion euros, with the amount expected to grow to 45 billion by 2020.
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