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Major disruption likely as France faces strike-bound Tuesday

Reuters

France faces major disruption to transport and services Tuesday as unions call a 24-hour general strike against the government’s plans to raise the minimum retirement age. The national day of action is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of private and public sector workers out onto the streets.

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Teachers took action for their own demands Monday, as pupils returned to school.

Unions which called the strike said a third of secondary school teachers stayed home Monday to protest the loss of 7,000 jobs in education, along with other planned changes.

Reuters

However education officials put this number at only six per cent.

CGT union leader Bernard Thibault said Monday he expected even more people would turn out for the 190 marches planned in cities across France on Tuesday than on 24 June, when more than 800,000 took part in demonstrations.

The demonstrations are timed to fall on the same day that the French parliament begins debate on a draft pension reform law.

The bill will increase the retirement age by the year 2018, but a minimum retirement age of 62 is still well under the average of 64 in the OECD group of wealthy industrialised democracies - despite France having one of the world's longest life expectancies.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reforms come as he enters the last two years of his first term weakened by scandal and poor opinion poll ratings.

Sarkozy is pushing pension reform as the start of an electoral fightback, with the 2012 presidential poll on the horizon, but it comes after a politically disastrous summer.

Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who will present the bill in parliament, has been accused of a conflict of interest in his role as UMP fundraiser and alleged undeclared donations coming from France's richest woman, L'Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

An Obea/Infra Forces opinion poll said 73 per cent of French people approved of the protest marches. But the poll also showed 65 per cent thought the government would not change course.

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