French pension reform won't hit miners, fishermen

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PARIS, Sep 22 (Reuters) The French government will leave only miners' and fishermen's retirement rights unchanged in its overhaul of pension privileges awarded to hundreds of thousands of workers, Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy sparked union anger this week by announcing he would phase out the so-called ''special regimes'', which allow rail, electricity and gas workers, among others, to retire earlier than their peers in other industries.

In an interview with newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche released ahead of its publication tomorrow, Bertrand said miners and fishermen would keep their privileges as their life expectancy was shorter than other workers'.

Asked whether all of the special regimes would be overhauled, Bertrand said: ''Only those of fishermen and miners will not be reformed.'' The privileges allow some to retire at 50 and were originally awarded to several dangerous or physically demanding professions.

Over the decades, many workers' conditions have become much more comfortable, but their right to retire early has remained unchanged.

''These workers' life expectancy is lower than elsewhere, and this must be taken into account,'' Bertrand said of fishermen and miners.

He said he did not expect a planned rail workers' strike on October 18 to lead to the sort of transport chaos that forced a conservative government to abandon similar reform plans in 1995.

''The situation is profoundly different to that of 1995. The debate has matured,'' he said, adding that public sector retirement rights had been overhauled since and only the special regimes had been left unchanged.

He also echoed the more conciliatory tone Sarkozy adopted in a televised interview on Thursday, saying there would be thorough negotiations with trade unions.

''A negotiation procedure has been put in place that will enable each party to make its arguments heard -- the reform will not happen without deep consultation,'' he said.

Lawmakers also have retirement privileges, but Bertrand said it was not up to the government to reach a decision on those.

''Nevertheless, a reform was already carried out in 2004, and I think reflection on that point is continuing,'' he added.

REUTERS GT BD2347

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