Europe

No relief for French motorists as petrol strike hardens despite govt pressure

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Filling stations across France were low on petrol on Monday as a strike by workers at energy giant TotalEnergies entered its third week despite government pressure to negotiate.

According to official estimates, around 30 percent of service stations were out of all or at least some fuel types, causing long queues for increasingly desperate motorists.

There had been hopes that the pay-related strike action at TotalEnergies, among the world’s biggest energy multinationals, would end rapidly after management on Sunday agreed to bring forward salary talks in return for workers resuming service.

But the hard-left CGT union declined the offer, accusing management of “blackmail”.

The union is demanding a wage rise of 10 percent for 2022, pointing to TotalEnergies’ exceptionally high first-quarter profit of $10.6 billion.

The boss of TotalEnergies’ European refineries, Jean-Marc Durand, countered that “it’s the French people who are being blackmailed”.

>> France’s fuel shortage causes frustration for motorists, anxiety for government

Stoppages continued at several refineries Monday, including France’s biggest near Le Havre in the north of the country, with the CGT renewing its strike call until Tuesday and extending strike action to more than a dozen service stations along French motorways.

Workers at the French branch of Esso-ExxonMobil were also still on strike, blocking two refineries.

Members of the French government, including Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, have called for both sides to find a negotiated settlement quickly, and on Monday President Emmanuel Macron weighed in.

“Blockades are no way to negotiate”, Macron said, calling for “an early conclusion of negotiations”.

He said the current petrol shortages were unrelated to the war in Ukraine and “not the government’s doing”.

Borne, meanwhile, said she expected “the situation to improve in the course of this week”.

The petrol crisis comes at a time of high energy prices and inflation that are sapping French households’ purchasing power.

The left-wing opposition coalition Nupes has called for a “March against a high cost of living” in Paris and elsewhere on Sunday.

At the weekend, several prominent French people came out in support of the initiative, including this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Annie Ernaux.

(AFP)

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