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French pension bill passes final vote

FRANCE – The French parliament has officially adopted the controversial pension bill reforms that have been debated since January.

Yesterday afternoon, the reforms were officially adopted after votes by the Senate of 205 for and 113 against.

Five months of strikes and demonstrations in protest against the reforms had caused concern. Pension reform proposals caused the French government to lose power in 1997, and with hundreds of thousands on the streets in protest again this time, the question was whether the government would follow it through.

Labour minister Francois Fillon and prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, however, have stood their ground, re-iterating the urgency for pensions reform given the demographic issues facing the country. Criticised, in the early months for their lack of communication, recent efforts made by president Jacques Chirac, Fillon, and Raffarin to address the nation’s concerns by letter, television and radio, seem to have paid off. Strike action has been kept to a minimum for the last two months.

The most controversial proposal now agreed was that of harmonisation of the public and private sector pension systems. In order to claim a full pension, both public and private sectors workers must contribute for 40 years as of 2008. This will increase to 41 years in 2012, increasing to 42 years in 2020, depending on demographic, economic and social changes.

Despite having protested less, unions are still voicing criticism of the reforms. The CGT has entitled the reform “work longer for less”, and French newspaper reports are predicting that there could still be protests left to come.

The French parliament has now closed for the summer, reopening in September when discussions on supplementary pensions will commence.

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