[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK
French strike action to continue
Parisians use a bike and a skateboard to get around the city
Workers turned to alternative modes of transport
A 24-hour strike by public transport workers across France has left the country with drastically reduced train, bus and metro services.

Trade unions held nationwide strikes aiming to protect a pension system that offers them special privileges.

With smaller groups voting to continue action into Friday, union leaders will meet on Monday to decide whether to hold more large-scale strikes.

But the government has pledged to continue with its pension reform plans.

Travellers were urged to postpone their journeys, take the day off or work from home as the protests left the country with drastically reduced train, bus and metro services on Thursday.

With only one Parisian subway train in 10 running on most lines, the capital's new Velib self-service bicycle scheme recorded twice as many users than normal.

One can sense the anger rising, and the government has got to take it into account
Jean-Claude Mailly
Workers' Force

Several top Parisian tourist attractions, including the Musee d'Orsay and most of the Louvre, were closed.

Thousands of striking workers marched through the streets, setting off firecrackers and sounding horns in one of several protests planned across the country.

Unions claimed the action was the biggest for several years, with three-quarters of workers at the state-run SNCF rail company joining the strike.

"The movement is strong, very strong," said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Workers' Force (FO) union.

"One can sense the anger rising, and the government has got to take it into account."

Test

The transport company in the Paris region reported a strike attendance of nearly 60%.

PENSION SYSTEM
Nicolas Sarkozy
President Sarkozy pledged to phase out special regimes during his election campaign
Special regime employees work 37.5 years instead of 40 to receive a full pension
Cost to the French taxpayer is an estimated 5bn euros (3.5bn, $7bn) this year

Smaller percentages of strike attendance - 40 to 45% - were reported state utilities and under 10% among teachers.

The 24-hour strikes - which began on Wednesday evening - are the biggest test so far of President Sarkozy's reform package.

He argues that the "special" pension systems, which are enjoyed by half a million rail, energy and other workers, are a relic of the past.

On Thursday, several commuter rail lines were closed, bus and tram services faced disruption in 27 major cities, and just 46 TGV fast trains were running out of the normal 700.

Traffic jams on highways around the capital were half as long as usual.

Friday's extended action by the UNSA union will hit fans of the English and South African rugby union teams converging on Paris for Saturday's World Cup final.

But the SNCF has sought to reassure fans travelling from London that eight out of 10 Eurostar trains would be running, with normal service expected to resume on Friday.

'Calmly but firmly'

Bernard Thibault of the General Labour Confederation had warned more strikes could follow.

Workers were "fed up with being constantly portrayed as privileged or in some way guilty on the issue of pensions", he added.

A crowded Paris metro train
Paris metro trains were packed at rush hour

Mr Sarkozy has said he will press ahead with the reforms "calmly but firmly".

Only 6% of pensions are classed as "special regime", which allows beneficiaries to retire after 37.5 years worked, compared with 40 years for other public and private sector employees.

Currently, workers in jobs deemed physically demanding can retire as early as 50 years of age.

The government says the cost to the budget of the special regime will be 5bn euros (3.48bn) this year.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
A union spokesman explains why workers are striking



SEE ALSO
France hit by mass job protests
29 Mar 06 |  Europe
Strike cripples French railways
21 Nov 05 |  Europe
'Black Tuesday' strike in France
04 Oct 05 |  Business

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific