French unions march against pension reforms

French unions take to the streets Tuesday to protest reforms to France's debt-ridden pension system, but no major disruptions are expected after the Socialist government took a soft approach.

Previous efforts at pension reform in 1995 and 2010 led to major upheavals with mass protests and damaging strikes, but a similar reaction is unlikely this time.

Four hardline unions have called for protests in 180 locations across the country, but moderate unions have not backed the call, saying they hope to seek changes in parliament.

Unions have denounced the reform as "anti-youth" because it will incrementally raise contribution periods from the current 41.5 years to 43 years by 2035, meaning employees will need to work longer to be eligible for full pensions.

Several student groups were also to join the protests.

A full package of reforms will be presented on September 18 as France, under pressure from the European Union, looks to plug holes that will see its generous state pension scheme fall more than 20 billion euros ($26.5 billion) into the red by 2020.

The reform plan also proposes increasing employee and employer contributions to France's retirement system, but avoids more controversial proposals such as raising the retirement age or slapping a new tax on French retirees.

The French parliament is to consider the measures in October.

The protest's impact was minimal early Tuesday, but was expected to grow throughout the day. The SNCF state rail company said trains were largely running as normal on Tuesday morning, while public transport in the Paris region was operating without much disruption.

Delays were also expected at airports later.

"We are not expecting marches that will be as big as in 2010," when three million people protested against then-president Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reforms, a government source told AFP.