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French refineries close over labour law strikes

24 May 2016

A strike over new labour laws has spread to all of France's eight oil refineries, the CGT union said on May 23, in an escalating dispute with the government. An estimated 20% of petrol stations across the country have either run dry or are low on supplies, but motorists’ groups say the number affected is in reality much higher.

Stock image
Stock image

The union is aiming to cut output by half at the refineries and wants strikes on the railways as well. The government provoked union opposition when it resorted to a constitutional device to force its watered-down labour reforms through parliament without a vote in early May.

The main points of the French labour reform bill are an element of local flexibility over the 35-hour working week, easier hiring and firing regulations, greater freedom for companies to reduce pay and more leeway over holidays and special leave.

The government hopes the new reforms will lead to French companies taking on more staff. Unemployment in the country remains at a stubborn 10%, more than double the figure in Germany and the UK.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls insisted the labour laws would stand, and that further pickets would be broken up.  He told French radio: "The CGT will come up against an extremely firm response from the government. We'll carry on clearing sites blocked by this organisation."

Police moved in early at dawn on May 24 to dismantle a blockade outside the Fos-sur-Mer oil refinery at Marseille port. Tear gas and water cannon were fired, projectiles thrown, and tyres and pallets set alight, reports said. Several people were hurt on both sides.

Total, which operates five of the eight refineries in France, said it has started the process of shutting down its Normandy and Donges refineries. It said in a statement the strikes had led to the shutdown of the Grandpuits refinery near the French capital, and its Feyzin refinery, while La Mede refinery was running at minimum output levels due to a blockade.

Exxon Mobil said the strike has not affected output at its two refineries but striking workers had blockaded the oil terminal at Fos-sur-Mer in southern France. The strike is also affecting three Elengy LNG terminals.
 


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