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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - PARIS - French officials prepared to restart talks with unions Tuesday over a pension overhaul that has sparked the country's longest transport strikes in decades, which labor leaders say could force millions of people to retire later than they thought.
Public support appears to be shifting in the government's favor, with just 44 percent backing the strike in an Ifop poll released Sunday, down seven points from the previous survey on December 19-20.
The reform would eliminate 42 separate pension schemes that offer early retirement and other advantages, mainly to public-sector workers, in favor of a single system.
It would also create a "pivot age" of 64 to benefit from a full pension, penalizing those who stop working at the official retirement age of 62 -- one of the lowest in Europe.
The government insists the measure is necessary for ensuring sufficient financing for the deficit-plagued system.
Yet officials have seized on an offer by France's largest union, the moderate CFDT, to hold separate talks on how to finance the plan later, in order to end the impasse over the pivot age.
"That's a very good idea," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Monday. "Never has a compromise seemed so close."
But the hard-line CGT and Force Ouvriere unions have vowed to derail the plan, urging a new day of mass walkouts against the reform on Thursday, which could see schools shut and public transport even more impacted than usual.
Train operator SNCF says it has lost more than 600 million euros ($670 million) in ticket sales since the strike began on December 5, and Paris commutes have been headaches for millions who rely on the RATP's metro, bus and suburban rail lines. -AFP
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