France orders energy companies to resolve strikes amid fuel shortages

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By Euronews  with AFP
Blockades continue at petrol stations around the country as industrial action enters its third week
Blockades continue at petrol stations around the country as industrial action enters its third week   -   Copyright  Laurent Cipriani/AP

With France still gripped by crippling fuel strikes, the government has intervened in a bid to break blockades by workers at depots around the country.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has ordered local prefects to ensure employees striking at Esso-Exxon Mobil oil refineries resume petrol supply to service stations around the country.

While two unions for the oil giant agreed to a proposed pay rise on Monday, the union for workers at the oil refineries have rejected the proposal.

The CGT trade union -- which is leading the strikes at TotalEnergies and at rival Esso-ExxonMobil -- said it is ready to go to war if President Macron forces staff to return to work.

The strike over pay, now in its third week, has led to the closure of an estimated 30 per cent of service stations nationwide.

Three of Total's refineries are still blocked, including its largest in Normandy and a fuel depot near Dunkerque in the north.

'Dialogue yes, blockades no'

The government has already dipped into strategic stockpiles in a bid to bring relief, and exceptionally fuel tankers were allowed to make deliveries Sunday.

"In one of the two companies the unions have got an agreement with majority support and nothing has changed, and in the other striking is being used to put pressure on dialogue", said Christophe Béchu, French Minister for Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion.

"These aren't situations that are acceptable for millions of French people.

"In these conditions, what the prime minister said and what I can only repeat, is that she asked the prefect to initiate the procedures which will make it possible to requisition the personnel who continue to block these depots.

"Dialogue yes, discussions yes, blockades no", he added.

This follows a warning from the country's economy and finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, earlier on Monday, that authorities may intervene.

"I believe that in the first stage, we must give negotiations a chance, a negotiation needs to be in good faith and cannot drag on, because our compatriots are legitimately fed up, they want a quick solution, we owe them a quick solution.

"Either the negotiations start and succeed quickly and the fuel depots are reopened, or we will use the other means available to us, including requisitions.

"Many of our compatriots are revolted and I understand them.

"Total has extended a hand to the employees of Total, to the employees of the refineries, a hand extended to the CGT.

"I note that the CFDT showed a sense of responsibility by saying that it was ready to negotiate, I hope that the CGT will show the same sense of responsibility so that an agreement can be found between Total and the employees of the refineries and that the fuel depots can be unblocked as soon as possible.

"The good organisation of French society depends on it," he said.

President Emmanuel Macron joined the debate, arguing that "blockades are no way to negotiate" and calling for "an early conclusion of negotiations".

He said the current petrol shortages were unrelated to the war in Ukraine and "not the government's doing".

Borne, meanwhile, said she expected "the situation to improve in the course of this week".

Fuel supply critical in the north

The petrol crisis comes at a time of high energy prices and inflation that are sapping French households' purchasing power.

Meanwhile, in the north of France and in Lille, the fuel supply situation remains critical: the only service station in the city still open has been taken by storm.

Vehicle owners are facing increasingly long waits to fill up their tanks.

"I find it very complicated because we have to go places, being in health studies, I work at the CHU (hospital) and I have to move around every day, yesterday I went to several stations, all of them closed, so it's really complicated, a difficult and complicated situation, it hinders our daily life", said Claire Titimal, a student nurse.

"I have a company, so I already have two vans that are on standby at the depot, and then I'm on fuel reserve so I absolutely have to fill up, otherwise I can't move," said company owner Bruno Duwez.

The demand for wage increases follows oil giant TotalEnergies' announcement that it made €10.6 billion in profits in the first quarter of this year.