French government in crisis talks as fuel shortages worsen


Paris
CNN business

French President Emmanuel Macron called an emergency meeting with senior ministers Monday to deal with crippling strikes at gas refineries that have caused fuel pumps to run dry.

Macron on Monday declared his desire for a “quick fix” to the protests and vowed to “do his utmost” to find one, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

France’s Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said the government ordered strikers at two tank farms in Feyzin, near Lyon, to return to work for several hours on Monday or face criminal prosecution.

Lyon is one of the worst-hit regions in the country, with nearly 40% of service stations running out of at least one fuel on Sunday. Elsewhere, almost a third of service stations have run out of at least one fuel, with the situation expected to worsen this week, according to French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

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This is the second time in recent weeks that the French government has taken the unusual step of requesting essential personnel amid weeks of strikes at ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies refineries that have disrupted supplies to thousands of service stations.

While ExxonMobil workers agreed to end their blockade of the Fos-sur-Mer refinery and depot in southern France after wage negotiations late last week, strikes at TotalEnergies refineries continue.

One of France’s largest unions, CGT, has refused to accept the terms of a collective agreement agreed between TotalEnergies and two other unions, CFE-CGC and CFDT. The agreement includes a salary increase of 7% for 2023 and a bonus for all employees in the amount of one month’s salary. CGT has asked for a 10% pay rise.

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But French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the strikes were “unacceptable and illegitimate” because collective agreements had been reached with the majority of workers. “The time for negotiations is over,” he added.

In an interview with France Inter, a radio station, a CGT representative, Philippe Martinez, claimed that “several thousand” workers were still on strike, contradicting government ministers who described striking workers as “a handful of workers” as well as “several”. hundred people” in interviews.

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Transport Minister Clement Beaune told France Inter that the only way out of the crisis was for the strikes to end.

Meanwhile, commuters could face days of travel chaos if planned strikes take place on Paris’ public transport network and parts of the national rail network. Beaune said that in the worst-hit regions only every second train would be running on Tuesday.

The industrial action comes amid rising living costs in France, where utility bills are skyrocketing as a result of a cut in Russian natural gas supplies that has sparked an energy crisis in Europe. Thousands marched through central Paris on Sunday to protest the crisis and “climate inaction”.

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