France strike clippings

French Service Stations Empty as Refineries Shut Down on Strike Action

More than 10 percent of French service stations were estimated to be out of fuel after walkouts and blockades at ports, refineries and storage depots halted imports and distribution.

Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner, said about 400 service stations out of its 4,000 in France were empty of some or all types of fuel while about a quarter of a similarly sized network of outlets at supermarkets were also dry.

“We are mostly running out of diesel,” Alexandre de Benoist, head of the Independent Fuel Importers Union, or UIP, said by telephone. “There are stocks but we can’t get at them in some cases because of blockages at fuel depots.”

The group estimates that 15 percent of the fuel distribution to France’s 12,000 stations has been cut off.

Local government today ordered about 30 workers back on the job to transport fuel from the Grandpuits refinery near Paris, the CGT union, which is leading the strike, said. The plant’s management said workers who refused the demand risked five years in prison, according to a union statement.

“France has enough refined products in sufficient quantities so that everyone will be guaranteed supply for many more weeks,” French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi said today on RTL radio. “When there is a blockade we will take the necessary measures.”

The union said “in light of the government’s declarations, we are not excluding police intervention” at Grandpuits.

Prices Jump

Refineries have been shut, fuel storage sites blocked and crude import terminals closed as employees protest a government plan to raise the retirement age. The action has created long lines at service stations across the country as consumers rush to fill up their cars.

The strike caused gasoline prices in northwest Europe to climb 13 percent, according to Bloomberg data. Fuel for immediate loading closed at $771 a metric ton on Oct. 15, up from $683 a ton on Sept. 27, when the Marseille strike started.

Total has halted refineries at Donges, Feyzin, Grandpuits, and La Mede while a plant in Normandy is in the process of closing, spokesman Michael Crochet-Vourey said by telephone. Some fuel depots operated by Total are blocked by strikers including one at Le Mans, he said.

Imports Blocked

Oil imports at Le Havre, Marseille, and near Nantes have been blocked by the labor action. The three points are the only means by which crude normally enters France, the Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, the refiner’s group, has said.

Police have ordered protesters to lift barricades at fuel depots while jet fuel supplies to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, France’s biggest, resumed after management reopened a pipeline. The link delivers supply from a terminal at Le Havre.

The strike at Marseille’s Fos and Lavera oil terminals entered its 22nd day, leaving 65 vessels stranded as of today. These included 47 crude and refined fuel tankers and 10 gas transporters, according to a statement from the port.

French Truckers Block Roads as Refinery Strikes Crimp Supplies

Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) — French truckers blocked highways and officials deployed police to prevent strikers from cutting fuel supplies as the standoff hardened over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to raise the retirement age to 62.

With all the country’s refineries on strike, industry groups said about 15 percent of service stations are dry, and the Interior Ministry activated a crisis committee to manage energy supplies.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the government won’t give in to demands that it suspend parliamentary debate on the pension bill and keep the minimum retirement age at 60. Sarkozy’s ministers sought to guarantee fuel supplies, as police moved to ensure access to storage sites amid a second week of refinery strikes.

“When there is a blockade, we will take the necessary measures,” Industry Minister Christian Estrosi said on RTL radio today. “We respect the right to strike, not the right to put up blockades.”

Unions have called for a day of protests tomorrow, to be accompanied by the fourth national strike in two months. The Senate is scheduled to complete passage of the pension bill the following day. France’s eight major unions will meet on Oct. 21 to decide how to continue their movement.

France’s civil-aviation authority has asked airlines tomorrow to cancel half their flights from Paris’ second airport at Orly, and 30 percent at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, the largest. Air France SA said it will limit cancelations to domestic and European destinations.

Running Dry

About 15 percent of France’s 12,000 service stations have run out of some or all types of fuel, Alexandre de Benoist, head of the Independent Fuel Importers Union, or UIP, said by telephone. “There are stocks but we can’t get at them in some cases because of blockages at fuel depots,” he said.

Total SA, Europe’s biggest refiner, said about 400 service stations out of the 4,000 it operates in France had run out of some products. Diesel, which powers 77 percent of cars sold in France, is the product with the tightest supply, they said.

Television stations throughout the weekend showed long lines at service stations and carried interviews with exasperated motorists.

Estrosi also said the country isn’t running out of fuel. “France has enough refined products in sufficient quantities that everyone will be guaranteed supply for many more weeks,” he said.

Highways Blocked

Today, truckers partially blocked the main north-south A6 highway between Lyon and Paris, as well as south of Lille in the north of the country. They also blocked industrial zones near Le Mans and Bordeaux, LCI television reported.

Fillon and Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said in separate television interviews last night that they won’t allow truckers to block the country’s 200 fuel depots.

The government today ordered 30 workers at Total’s Grandpuits refinery near Paris back to work to transport fuel, according to the CGT union, which protested the move.

Paris’s airports are being supplied with jet fuel, and fewer than 2 percent of France’s service stations have run dry, Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said on Europe1 radio.

The lower National Assembly has already passed the pension legislation, which raises the minimum retirement age to 62, and the age for a full pension to 67 from 65. The government says it’s still open to some small changes and has already made concessions that will allow people in difficult jobs as well as working mothers with three children to retire earlier.

“Raising the retirement age is the key to the financing of the system,” Fillon said in an interview on TF1 television yesterday. “The debate and vote in the Senate will go ahead.” He said he won’t allow the strikes to “suffocate” the economy.

Pension Deficit

The government says the measures are needed to balance the pension system’s budget by 2018. The overhaul is part of its struggle to reduce the overall deficit. This year, the gap will stand at 7.7 percent of gross domestic product and Sarkozy plans to cut it to 6 percent next year.

Staff at all 12 French refineries are on strike, Eric Sellini, a CGT union representative, said yesterday by telephone. “No crude is arriving, no refined products are leaving,” he said. Six of the refineries are run by Total SA.

Excluding the mothballed Dunkirk refinery, France is capable of processing 1.84 million barrels of crude a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The port of Marseille has been on strike for two weeks because of an unrelated protest. That movement has now spread to other ports because of the pension issue. The Marseille port said in a statement yesterday that 61 merchant ships are blocked, including 29 crude-oil tankers, 18 tankers of refined products, and 10 tankers carrying natural gas.

Trains

Paris commuter trains and local rail services throughout France ran at half service today, the national railway company SNCF said, while one out of two scheduled high-speed trains operated. In Paris, metros and buses have run normally for the past three days.

Thalys trains to Brussels were disrupted today by an unrelated strike in Belgium.

Students have increasingly joined the protests, and students at 400 out of the country’s roughly 3,000 high-schools were protesting today, according to student union UNL.

Since the unions’ first protest strike on Sept. 7, the risk premium on French bonds has increased. Investors demand 39 basis points more to buy 10-year French bonds than comparable German securities, compared with 30 basis points on Sept. 6.

–With assistance from Nidaa Bakhsh in London and Mark Deen and Helene Fouquet in Paris. Editors: James Hertling, Jennifer Freedman

French riot police battle with ‘anarchists’

Riot police used tear gas and batons on masked anarchists during mass anti-government demonstrations in France.

The worst violence broke out in Paris where 30 protesters were arrested.

Anger also spilled over to Marseilles and Toulouse, where students attacked windows and bus stops.

Demonstrators were furious over government plans to raise the state retirement age to 62. More unrest is predicted tomorrow as France prepares for a national strike.

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Industrial action has already shut down 10 out of France’s 12 oil refineries, sparking panic fuel buying.

A police spokesman said: “Anarchists groups were leading many of the protests. Missiles were thrown and property attacked.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “If we must face a long strike, we’ll do it. A part of France will be thankful we brought the extremists to their knees. We can win the battle of public opinion.”


French Oil Workers Stay On Strike, Roads Blocked

October 18, 2010

French oil workers on Monday defied the government’s demand to get back to work and end scattered fuel shortages, stepping up their fight against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age to 62.

Striking workers piled up tires and set them ablaze in front of a refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris, after authorities issued a legal order insisting that some strikers reopen the facility. Workers said Monday they would refuse, as curls of heavy black smoke wafted into the air.

Other employees and residents formed a “human chain” to prevent the refinery workers from entering the plant, and union leaders said they expected an imminent police intervention.

Strikers have blockaded a dozen French refineries and numerous oil depots in the last week as part of widespread protests against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon pledged Sunday to do what’s necessary to prevent fuel shortages, saying the government won’t allow such shortages to hurt the French economy. Fearful motorists have flocked to gas stations in panic and found many empty, while aviation authorities told short-haul planes coming in from other European destinations to bring enough fuel to get back.

The head of France’s petroleum industry body said fuel reserves were “enough to keep us going for a few weeks.”

Jean-Louis Schilansky, president of the Petrol Industries Association, warned however that if the strikers continue to block fuel depots and if the nation’s truckers join the movement, “then we will have a very big problem.”

Truckers did join the fray on Monday, staging organized slowdowns aimed at snarling highway traffic. French TV showed images of cars and trucks on a “Snail Operation,” driving at a snail’s pace along the main highway between Paris and the northern city of Lille, with red union flags waving out the windows.

Meanwhile, French youth who have rallied to the cause burned tires and set up blockades Monday outside some high schools in Paris and nearby suburbs.

Students from Lycee Joliot Curie in the Paris suburb of Nanterre tried to blockade their school, with about 100 of them facing off against police.

Roads blocked as French pension protests escalate

PARIS — French truck drivers blocked roads as protests against pension reforms intensified Monday after the prime minister vowed to do whatever necessary to stop fuel supplies running out.

Truckers staged go-slows on motorways near Paris and several provincial cities, and drivers blocked access to goods supply depots and joined oil workers blocking fuel depots to defend their right to retire at 60.

The truckers’ action marked an escalation of the protests that have brought millions onto the streets in recent weeks. Another day of mass strikes and nationwide protest rallies is planned for Tuesday.

High school students joined the protest en masse last week, and on Monday riot police fired tear gas at masked youths who set a car on fire, smashed bus stops and threw stones outside a school in a Paris suburb.

The violence erupted after around 300 students tried to blockade the Joliot-Curie lycee in Nanterre, one of 261 schools across France that officials said were affected by the protests against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reforms.

Labour wants to force Sarkozy into backing down on his plan to raise the minimum retirement age to 62, which is in the final days of its journey through a parliament in which the right-wing leader enjoys a comfortable majority.

Sarkozy has staked his credibility on the reform package, but unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when then president Jacques Chirac backed down on pension reform after a lengthy transport strike that paralysed France.

Most French back the current protest movement, with a poll published Monday in the popular daily Le Parisien showing that 71 percent of those asked expressed either support for or sympathy with the anti-reform protests.

With 11 out of France’s 12 oil refineries shut down by strike action, and many fuel depots blocked by pickets, panic buying led to a 50 percent jump in petrol sales last week.

Around 1,500 petrol stations on the forecourts of French supermarkets had run out of fuel by Monday, their industry association said.

Some 4,500 of France’s 12,500 filling stations are attached to shopping centres, and they are the country’s busiest, supplying 60 percent of the fuel used by French motorists.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon had on Sunday sought to calm fears of petrol shortages, and he vowed to take any “necessary decisions” to ensure the country’s fuel supplies flowed.

“I will not let the French economy be choked by a blockade of fuel supplies,” Fillon told TF1 television.

“The right to strike is respected, but this is not the right to block access to fuel, or to deny non-striking workers access to their workplaces,” he said.

The premier did not say what those measures might be, but the threat did little to deter the truckers who on Monday joined oil workers who maintained their pickets or threw up new ones outside fuel depots.

“We will stay here as long as we can,” said the CFDT union’s Joseph Sieiro, one of the hundred people, most of them truckers, who turned up on Monday morning to block an oil terminal at Port-La-Nouvelle in southern France.

Unions slammed the management’s reopening of a crucial pipeline bringing fuel to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, which officials warned could have run empty as early as Monday, saying untested fuel was flowing to planes.

“Turning the pumps on again was done secretly this morning (Sunday) around 7:00 am by a handful of managers who are absolutely not trained for this kind of operation,” said Philippe Saunier of the powerful CGT union.

Unions have said their protests may not end even after the pension reform pensions is passed by the Senate this week.

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