Strikes hit France refineries

Article by Staff Writer

FRANCE’S refineries are suffering major disruption in the midst of strikes and blockades by workers trying to force the government to abandon proposed labour market reforms.

At its height, industrial action in the past week has hit all eight of the country’s refineries, which together have the capacity to process around 1.5m bbl/d of oil. The latest is that six – five owned by Total and one by INEOS – have now either stopped operations completely or reduced production. Only ExxonMobil’s refineries in Port Jerome and Fos-Sur-Mer are unaffected.

The CGT union, which is leading the action with support from others, says 300,000 workers have been mobilised across France. They oppose the government’s proposal to extend the maximum working week from 35 hours, and to make it easier for companies to make staff redundant, in a move the government hopes will prompt firms to hire more staff. In their current form, France’s labour laws are among some of the most favourable across Europe for workers.

Blockades have prevented tankers from leaving refineries, with protestors going as far as damaging roads and railways to halt deliveries. A third of France’s 12,000 fuel stations have suffered shortages, leading the government to tap emergency reserves for the first time in six years.

Total has said the disruption may lead it to reconsider plans to invest €500m (US$557m) upgrading its Donges refinery, the Financial Times reports. It quotes Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné as saying: “It’s beginning to go too far … It’s serious for our company, which is facing difficulties in a backdrop of low oil prices, and which needs all its sites.”

The blockades have become violent, with reports that police have used tear gas and water cannons in an effort to disperse protestors. CGT has warned that workers may take action to disrupt the Euro 2016 football tournament hosted by France from 10 June.

France’s prime minister Manuel Valls has said that the labour market reforms will not be withdrawn but could be “modified”, the BBC reports.

Article by Staff Writer

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