Could strikes at French refineries cause petrol shortages at the pump?

One of the main unions says every refinery in the country has been affected by protest action and that little to no fuel was being distributed to petrol stations on Tuesday

Refineries are among the sectors most impacted by strike action
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Workers at petrol refineries across France joined today’s (Tuesday, March 7) pension reforms strike, sparking fears of shortages at the pump.

It was part of a nationwide walkout over the government's proposals, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.

The CGT union claimed every refinery in the country was affected and little to no fuel was being distributed to petrol stations on Tuesday.

It said at some refineries up to 90% of workers were on strike (La Mède, in Bouches-du-Rhône), whereas at others, such as Gravenchon (Seine-Maritime), only 40% of employees had downed tools.

“The strike has started everywhere... The number of people on strike varies depending on the site, but exits of all refineries this morning are blocked," said Eric Sellini, a CGT spokesperson.

But Olivier Gantois, president of the French union of petroleum industries, said any potential shortages on the forecourt would be dependent on how long the strike action at refineries goes on for.

It is unclear how many will follow the lead of Gonfreville refinery, where workers on Tuesday voted for a 72-hour renewable strike.

‘Renewable’ means workers will reconvene every three days to vote on whether they should continue to strike.

The CGT has called for refinery workers to commit to renewable strikes across the country.
However, Mr Gantois said the situation was different from last October when the country was hit with petrol shortages.
He said this time the sector had anticipated the threat to stocks and filled up accordingly.

Major road blocked in Brittany

It was not just the prospect of petrol shortages affecting drivers.

On Tuesday morning, more than 100 people came together to block a main road in Brittany, as part of the pension reform protests.

The RN 24, linking Rennes to Lorient, was blocked by protestors who sat on the road, lit fires, and placed debris across the carriageway to prevent motorists from passing.

Those present included students, who allege that police used tear gas to clear the road of demonstrators.

Students in Rennes have also occupied a university campus in the city as part of demonstrations.

Further roadblocks, as well as more student action, are expected to increase over the coming day due to the widespread disruption it causes, in line with bringing France to a standstill, although no other large road blockages have yet been reported.

What disruption did Tuesday's strike cause?

It is still too early to know how many people hit the streets on Tuesday to protest the government's pension reforms.

Laurent Berger, secretary-general of the CFDT union, claimed around midday that there had already been an historic mobilisation to demonstrate against the proposals. That was before the protests in Paris had got under way.

On the railways, SNCF said services had been heavily impacted, with one-in-five high-speed TGV and TERs able to run.

Major disruption was expected at airports across the country, with airlines asked to cut their flights by between 20 and 30%.

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