French strikes ease as unions move towards talks

Oil refinery strikes in France against an unpopular pension reform lost steam yesterday, with walkouts ending at several plants and unions sounding keener on talks with employers than pursuing the showdown.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's flagship reform, to make people work two years longer for their pensions, has met with fierce opposition in some of the most sustained protests in Europe to austerity measures aimed at reining in swollen deficits.

With Mr Sarkozy's bill now through parliament and set to be signed into law this week, CFDT union leader François Chérèque and Laurence Parisot, head of the Medef employer's group, said on France 2 television late on Monday that they were open to talks on youth and senior citizen employment – suggesting a corner may have been turned in the showdown.

"I salute the return to reason and to dialogue," Economy Minister Christine Lagarde told Radio Classique. "To put talks on the table, to discuss youth employment, senior citizen employment and examine the underlying problems that are worrying young and old people, that's really a turning point and I think it's a good thing."