France orders more strikers back to work as fuel shortages bite

France orders more strikers back to work as fuel shortages bite


The French government on Thursday ordered more striking workers back to a fuel depot in northern France after talks to end a three-week strike stalled, saying fuel shortages were weighing too heavily on the economy.

Motorists continued to look for gas stations that still had stocks, although President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address on Wednesday that relief was on the horizon for next week.

“The government expects talks between company management and employee representatives to resume in the coming hours,” said the office of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

But in the meantime, key workers have been told to return to work on Thursday at TotalEnergies’ huge fuel depot near Dunkirk, northern France, where around a dozen police officers were stationed outside, an AFP journalist saw.

Borne’s office spoke of a “real economic threat” to much of northern France, particularly to agriculture, fisheries and industry.

The CGT and FO unions, which are leading the strike at the refineries, have said they will challenge the confiscation orders in court, calling it an illegal maneuver against the right to industrial action.

“Police came to their homes and had them sign a paper ordering them to come to work from 2pm this afternoon until 6am tomorrow,” said FO officer at the Dunkirk site, Clement Mortier, to AFP.

– Escalation of tensions feared –

The government had already asked depot workers on Wednesday to return to the Esso-ExxonMobil refinery in Gravenchon-Port-Jerome in northern France.

Unions are demanding wage increases in response to high inflation, citing massive profits for energy companies as gas and oil prices have soared during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Their strike has left 30 percent of petrol stations across the country with little or no fuel, although nearly half of petrol stations in northern France and the greater Paris area have been affected, the Energy Transition Ministry said.

On Thursday, TotalEnergies told AFP that it would propose a six percent increase for next year, falling short of the CGT’s call for an immediate 10 percent increase retroactive to January 1.

“We will not negotiate through the media,” replied Eric Sellini, the company’s CGT coordinator.

His union also called on Thursday for the strike to be extended to the entire energy sector, potentially disrupting operations in the country’s all-important nuclear sector.

Government officials have been urging the companies to negotiate, fearing an escalation in tensions ahead of a nationwide anti-inflation march on Sunday organized by Macron’s left-wing opponents.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL radio that given the huge gains this year, TotalEnergies has “the capacity… and therefore the obligation” to increase workers’ wages.

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