15 May 2003

Public sector strike in New Caledonia to enter third day

10:55 am on 15 May 2003

Police in New Caledonia have intervened in a public sector strike after access to the mayor's office had been blocked.

Four unions began their indefinite stoppage two days ago in dispute over pension entitlements, which has disrupted the territory's administration and closed many schools.

An opposition MP and prominent businessman has called on the unions to meet the government halfway to solve the crisis.

Didier Leroux says the unions have to face the reality that there is not enough money in the fund to continue with the current level of retirement payments.

The territory's pension fund had a deficit of 30 million US dollars last year.

He says people's habits have changed.

"They retire earlier and they live longer, people are not working long enough to pay for the retirement period which is getting longer and longer. There comes a moment where you cannot sustain paying someone during his retirment three or four times what he has paid."

Mr Leroux says the government has proposed to increase the years of work or increase worker contributions to the fund.