- Associated Press - Friday, October 29, 2010

PARIS (AP) — French unions said Friday they have decided to end strikes at all oil refineries and major ports where workers have been protesting for several weeks President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Workers at the last four oil refineries still on strike have voted to return to the job, the CFDT union said. At one point, all 12 refineries were shut down, leaving drivers scrambling to find gasoline.

It can take days, perhaps even a week, to get refineries up to full speed to produce fuel after the lengthy shutdowns, the CFDT union said.

The protest movement has been losing steam after parliament this week approved the plan to change the retirement age from 60 to 62. Mr. Sarkozy has refused to back down despite two weeks of strikes that canceled trains, shut down oil refineries and left drivers struggling to find gasoline.

The CGT union, meanwhile, said striking workers at Marseille’s oil terminals also voted Friday to end their protest that has blocked the port for about a month, leaving 80 ships stranded at sea. Workers in the port of Le Havre were also ending their protest.

Marseille has been particularly hard-hit by the strike movement. The city is still shoveling itself out of some 9,000 tons of garbage that piled up on sidewalks with a weeks-long garbage collectors’ strike.

France’s plan to raise the retirement age now looks almost certain to become law. It still must go before a council that will rule on whether it is constitutional. Mr. Sarkozy said Friday that he will sign it once that happens — though unions and the Socialist opposition have urged him not to because the bill is so unpopular.

Unions see retirement at 60 as a cornerstone of France’s generous social benefit system, but the government says the entire pension system is in jeopardy without the reform because French people are living longer — an average of nearly 84 years for women and nearly 78 for men.


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