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French MPs approve key pension reform


 June 20, 2003

PARIS - The French National Assembly (lower house) early Friday voted for the key article in a controversial pension reform bill that has led to nationwide strikes and transport chaos.

After 10 days of debates, the article calling for an increase in the number of years worked for a full pension was given the nod on first reading by 87 votes to 20.

The Socialist party, which with the communists has been adopting delaying tactics and voted against, lamented "25 years of our history disappearing with the end of retirement at 60."

The reforms, devised to safeguard France's "pay-as-you-go" system against a looming demographic crunch as the baby boom generation reaches retirement age, would require employees to work more years in order to get a full pension.

The pensions plan has been accepted by the second-largest union CFDT. But the hardline CGT and FO, which are powerful in the public sector, say it places too much of the burden on the workforce and are demanding its renegotiation.

The latest day of nationwide strikes received minimal backing Thursday.

With summer holidays approaching, union leaders broke with practice and failed to announce a new strike day, conceding that the pensions bill would likely be on the statute books as planned before the holiday recess.

Far from the near-paralysis that plagued the country when transport workers walked off the job several times in recent weeks, air traffic at Paris's two main airports was unaffected, and rail and Paris metro traffic was near-normal.

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