French fuel shortages: Strikes go on despite heavy government pressure

Around one third of petrol stations, mainly in the north and east, are affected by the industrial action

Strikes at French oil refineries have led to fuel shortages at petrol stations around the country
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The strikes at TotalEnergies’ oil refineries are set to continue despite the government’s heavy push for the situation to be resolved, labour union CGT announced this morning (October 12).

Strikes are also ongoing at two Esso-ExxonMobil refineries.

The workers and unions are demanding fairer salaries for staff at the oil refineries and a greater possibility of wage rises.

The strikes have impacted around a third of the country’s petrol stations, mainly in the north and east, with some either without fuel and others without certain types of fuel or with only limited stocks.

Local authorities around the country have been asked to ban the filling up of jerry cans or other fuel containers at petrol stations. Certain departments have also placed limits on how much fuel people can take at a time.

Read more: French fuel shortages: jerry cans to be banned to prevent stockpiling

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

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne yesterday announced that a mechanism called a réquisition des personnels will be used if necessary to ensure fuel supplies. A réquisition is when the government obliges a certain number of the people striking 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 requisition seen as a moral infringement on this, if not a legal one.

France’s Ministry of Energy Transition said Tuesday evening (October 10) that the orders for requisitioning staff were "ready" for the Esso-ExxonMobil refineries, but had not yet been issued.

The ministry was hoping that the strikes would end before it had to issue the order, which would then be enforced by departmental prefectures.

Geoffrey Caillon, the coordinator of trade union CFDT at TotalEnergies, called the requisition a “failure of social dialogue”.

There remains uncertainty about how long the strikes will go on and then how long after the effects of it will be felt.

The government has already opened up strategic stocks of fuel to supplement stations’ supplies.

Ms Borne reportedly said at an emergency meeting on Monday evening that the government “cannot let the country be blocked”.

"It will continue to take measures to facilitate the supply of petrol stations as it has been doing for several days but everyone must take responsibility. The government will take its own,” she said.

Christophe Aubert, CGT’s Esso-ExxonMobil delegate, said in a speech in front of striking workers at the Esso-ExxonMobil refinery in Port-Jérôme-sur-Seine (Seine-Maritime) this morning that they would continue to fight against government pressure.

“You are all targeted, the government wants to force us to come to work, we are going to fight against that, it is clearly a challenge to the right to strike,” he said, according to Le Monde.

The strikes have been going on for a little over three weeks, and are currently affecting six of France’s eight refineries.

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