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French union blockades spark petrol shortages

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French union blockades spark petrol shortages

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  • French police break up protest outside oil refinery
  • Six out of eight refineries blockaded
  • 2000 petrol stations running out of petrol
  • Tourists stranded as petrol shortages bite

French police began breaking up union protests outside the oil refinery at Fos-sur-Mer in the south of France early on Tuesday morning (May 24).

Workers have been blockading the oil works and petrol stations as part of nationwide protests against government labour reforms.

Members from the the hardline CGT and FO unions have been either halting or blocking production at six out of eight refineries nationwide.

The protests started as the government began forcing new labour rules through parliament. Unions say the industrial action is not to create shortages but to get the law withdrawn.

“We hope that other comrades will join our movement. And as we said, we do not want to destroy anything. We are workers who are angry and we are disappointed. So, it’s up to the government to take the decisions that are needed,” said Franck Bobard FO workers union.

Queues

Queues have been reported at petrol stations in many areas of France. Those living near Belgium are popping over the border to refuel.

“As there is a queue of at least 20 cars I came here at its faster,” said one driver. “It’s been going on since Saturday so we come here now to fill up our tanks,” said another.

The fuel shortages are said to have left many tourists stranded, being unable to fill up at dry petrol stations.There have also been some reports of fights breaking out on forecourts as tempers fray.

Government action

Finance Minister Michel Sapin accused the CGT union staging the majority of blockades of “holding the French people to ransom,” adding that the government would interfere with the strike when the protests are “no longer legitimate.”

At the heart of the industrial action are unpopular government changes to the country’s employment law.

France’s labour regulations have famously been symbolised by the labour code, a weighty 3,800-page tome. But the government now wants to loosen a number of rules on hiring and firing. It will give employers more scope to lay off workers and cut costs, allow some employees to work far longer than a 35-hour week and make it easier to fire workers on economic grounds when companies run into difficulties.

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