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French unions blockade refineries in bid to stop pension reform - Metro US

French unions blockade refineries in bid to stop pension reform

FILE PHOTO: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is welcomed by French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner as she arrives for a ministers' meeting at the Interior ministry in Paris, on January 6, 2020. Photo by Eliot Blondet/ABACAPRESS.COMNo Use France Digital. No Use France Print.
By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Benoit Van Overstraeten

By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Benoit Van Overstraeten

PARIS (Reuters) – French unions blockaded several oil refineries on Tuesday, aiming to cause shortages at petrol stations after a month-long public transport strike failed to force the government to withdraw its pension reform plans.

Workers at Exxon Mobil France’s Port Jerome and Fos refineries began a four-day strike, the hardline CGT union said.

An Exxon spokeswoman confirmed that the 140,000 barrels-per-day Fos-sur-Mer plant, which accounts for about 10% of French refinery output, was blocked but added that the 240,000 bpd Port Jerome refinery was operating normally.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the country was not at risk of fuel shortages and that police will ensure that oil depots are not blockaded.

“People have the right to strike, but they do not have the right to block (refineries),” he said on RTL radio, referring to action by workers to obstruct factory gates.

Philippe said he was open to discussing changes to the average retirement age with unions, one of the main sticking points over pension reform plans that have triggered protests.

The environment ministry said all French refineries continued to operate, but five out of seven were temporarily having difficulty distributing their products.

It said it expected no problems with petrol stations, whose supplies are guaranteed by a separate network of about 200 depots.

On Tuesday, only three of these depots reported difficulties while others were operating normally, the ministry said, adding that France has stocks corresponding to more than three months of fuel consumption.

On Monday, a CGT union official told Reuters that all but one French refineries will be on strike for 96 hours from Tuesday to Friday and these will close completely. [nL8N29B40Q]

Total said on Tuesday that the strikes were having little impact on its operations and that only 26 of its 3,500 petrol stations had run out of fuel.

It said only about 5% of its refinery staff were on strike and that its five refineries were storing their production while shipments are blocked.

“There is no risk of shortages at our petrol stations,” Total said.

Unions have vowed to halt the reforms, which are a central part of President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda. Nationwide strikes and demonstrations have shut schools and closed transport services, while demonstrations have led to clashes with the police. Unions are planning a fourth day of nationwide demonstrations on Thursday.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Bate Felix and Geert De Clercq; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood)

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