AUSTRIA/FRANCE – Both the Austrian and French governments are digging their heels in over the pensions reform, in spite of further strikes yesterday by unions in both countries.

In France yesterday public sector workers went on strike for the second time in three weeks. Train services and international flights drew to a halt and schools closed as unions protested once more again proposals to increase their working life to 65 years in line with private sector workers.

In Austria, transport and postal workers walked out in protest of proposals that could see pension cut by 11%.

The governments of both countries remain defiant. French prime minister, Jean Pierre Raffarin, is reported as saying: “This is about the survival of the republic.” There are still concerns however that the public uprising could bring down the government, as with the strikes of 1995, although the number of protesters yesterday was less than the previous strike. Unions estimated around 1.6 million people joined the nationwide protest, although police put the figure at 510,000. Raffarin asked the UMP, the French union movement, today to back the reforms, reportedly saying that their support was needed, and that the reform had to be done.

In Austria, People's Party National Parliamentary President, Andreas Khol, has asked the Austrian Association of Unions, the OeGB, to stop striking, and has invited the unions to renegotiate the reform and find a solution, before the strikes further damage Austria’s reputation. The government has made clear, however, that the key proposals will not be amended.

The French pensions bill was passed by the council of ministers at the end of May and will go before the General Assembly 10 June. In Austria, the reform bill was originally expected 4 June, but last week the government announced its postponement. The bill is now anticipated to be published before 18 June.