France’s energy unions are preparing to strike on November 14 over changes to their pensions system brought about by the forthcoming privatisation of Gaz de France (GdF) and Electricite de France (EdF).

Employers at GdF and EdF currently belong to the IEG scheme – the pension system for electric and gas industries in France – noted for its generous benefits and special arrangements. But when the two companies are privatised in 2003 and 2004 the IEG scheme will cease to exist, and their 180,000 employees will have to join France’s second-pillar pay-as-you-go scheme.

Unions claim the benefits under the general scheme are worse, and that, with administration fees deducted, their pensions will be smaller.

As such, the energy unions CGT, CFDT, CFTC and CFE-CGC are calling for a strike next week in order to make the government aware of their concerns over the changes.

One proposal made by the unions is for Edf to establish an off-balance sheet pension system which would be run by the unions themselves, but still be part of the AGIRC-ARRCO system. One other solution – according to reports in the French press - would be for the state to help EdF and GdF with pensions payments, as it did when France Telecom was privatised in 1997.

However, one French pension consultant who declined to be named, says: “the State does not have a great deal of money to subsidise the payments, and it may be that the EU will have an issue if it does. The whole point of privatising the two companies is to provide fair competition in Europe. If the State is still contributing, this would not be the case.”

Any proposals made by the unions will be put to the French government next year.

The planned strike follows similar action by 60,000 public sector workers last month. But, says the French consultant: “The strikes are unlikely to have a great effect. EdF and GdF will probably be privatised regardless.”