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French fuel shortages: When might supplies return to normal?

Even when an agreement between refinery bosses and unions is found, it will take ‘a good week’ to get supply flow back to normal levels

A French refinery boss has said that even when the ongoing strikes end, it will take a “good week” to get petrol station supply flow back to normal Pic: olrat / Shutterstock

[Article updated on October 12 at 15:00 with the news that the CGT will be attending a meeting with TotalEnergies this afternoon.]

Strikes at French TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil refineries are continuing today (October 12), despite pressure from the government, and no imminent solution appears to be on the cards. The CGT union has, however, agreed to attend a meeting with TotalEnergies this afternoon.

Around one in three French petrol stations are experiencing supply shortages as a result of the strikes.

Read more: French fuel shortages: Strikes go on despite heavy government pressure

The CGT union announced today that strike action was being renewed in six of the country’s eight refineries, with the Donges refinery in Loire-Atlantique joining the movement this morning. 

France’s ecological transition ministry has now stated, however, that a réquisition de personnels will be launched “today” at the Esso-ExxonMobil site in Gravenchon-Port-Jérôme (Seine-Maritime). 

This means that some staff will be required to return to work to ensure that a minimum service is provided. 

The government cannot order all workers back to work as this would infringe on their right to strike. 

A réquisition is considered a controversial move in France with workers’ right to strike held in high esteem and the réquisition seen as a moral infringement on this, if not a legal one. 

The ecological transition ministry had said last night that the réquisition decree was “ready”, but had hoped that work would begin again without the order having to be made. 

The fact that it is now implementing the measure may mean that the strain on supply lessens slightly, but with the other refineries still on strike, there will not be a complete return to normal.

CFDT union spokesperson Geoffrey Caillon has also told Franceinfo that réquisitions: “will only worsen the situation.” 

The CGT is demanding a 10% pay rise for its TotalEnergies workers in a push for more effective distribution of the company’s $10.6billion profits for the first half of 2022. 

Read also: French fuel prices rise over €2 a litre in places amid shortages

CGT to attend meeting with TotalEnergies 

Two unions representing Esso-ExxonMobil workers – the CFDT and the CFE-CGC – reached an agreement with the management for a wage increase of 6.5% in 2023 and a bonus of €3,000. 

However, the CGT and the FO have not agreed to this, with the CGT opposed to the fact that a large proportion of the salary increase comes from a bonus rather than a boost to basic pay.

Yesterday, the government’s official spokesperson Olivier Véran told RTL: “The government is calling for the strikes to end without delay”.

“We think that there is no longer any reason for there to remain any blocks on Exxon refineries or depots,” as a result of the agreement with some unions.

“With regards to Total, company bosses have proposed that salary negotiations” begin this week on the condition that the strikes come to an end. 

He added that the CFDT was prepared to begin talks, while the CGT was continuing calls to renew strike action, saying that it will not negotiate until TotalEnergies commit in principle to a salary increase. 

It has been announced this afternoon that the CGT will be attending a meeting with TotalEnergies bosses today to discuss the situation. 

This comes after company said yesterday evening (October 11) that it would only invite unions that were not striking. The CFDT agreed to attend the meeting, but warned: “We will not negotiate salaries with TotalEnergies without the CGT. That would go against democracy.” 

Mr Caillon said: “What we want is for everyone to be around the table to find a solution and a compromise.

“That will mean that we do not secure everything we want but that we find a compromise which is in the interests of everyone.

“I believe that we must find a way out because we cannot continue in this situation, because this has gone beyond the company and is affecting the whole of France.” 

Several days for the system to get moving again

Mr Véran has commented that the fact that the CGT will not agree to attend salary negotiations is “excessive, abnormal, as this is a preventative strike and salary negotiations will be coming.”

He said that even when the strikes come to an end it will take days for things to return to normal.

TotalEnergies’ Jean-Marc Durand has also stated on BFMTV that “we will need a good week to get back to a normal rhythm.” 

If the supply issues are to be resolved, TotalEnergies and Esso-ExxonMobil therefore need to first come to a definitive agreement with all the unions involved, and will then allow several days to return to the level of productivity expected under typical circumstances. 

With the prospect of an agreement not appearing to be imminent, this return to normal cannot yet begin. 

However, when asked whether supplies would return to normal levels before the school Toussaint holidays begin on October 22 – and when demand for fuel rises by an average of 30% every year – Mr Véran said that the issue would indeed be resolved in the next two weeks.

Related articles 

French fuel shortage: How to check stocks at your local petrol station

Fuel shortages: strike action is renewed at French refineries

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