French ports strike grows, fuel shortages feared
A growing strike blocked French Mediterranean ports Friday as dockers joined oil terminal workers whose action against port reforms entered its 12th day, raising fears of fuel shortages.
Dockers at the ports of Marseille, France's biggest, and nearby Fos-sur-Mer began a stoppage on Friday morning, a day ahead of the start of a weekend nationwide port strike called by the CGT, France's biggest union.
The stoppage at the oil terminals was launched on September 27 against plans to privatise the Fos-sur-Mer and Lavera terminals, part of a port reform scheme.
"The situation is very worrying," said Jean-Louis Schilansky, president of the French Union of Petroleum Industries, warning that four of the six refineries supplied by the Marseille terminals may have to close next week.
"We could have supply problems" in southeastern France from around October 20 due to the blockage of the oil terminals, he added.
Schilansky said the strike had already cost the petrol industry 25 to 30 million euros (up to 42 million dollars).
Unions have been demanding commitments on job protection and special allowances for physically demanding work, as well as backing a broader protest against the government's plan to raise the retirement age.
"The question of hard jobs must be handled and the reduction in life expectancy which goes with our job must be compensated," said the union leader for the Fos-sur-Mer dockers, Stephane Stamatiou.
The closure has forced rationing of diesel fuel in some French Mediterranean ports. Motorists on Friday swamped fuel stations on the island of Corsica when they received their first diesel deliveries after days of shortages.
Scores of tankers have been stuck waiting in the waters off Marseille, according to port authorities.
The national strike on Saturday and Sunday could disrupt other major ports such as Le Havre in the northwest. The dockers' strike at the two ports in the Marseille area was set for Friday and Sunday.
The CGT has also urged port workers to join a strike from Tuesday called by unions in various sectors against the pensions reform, an open-ended action which is renewable daily and could cause days of disruption in France.
The dockers' action on Friday was their second weekend strike in a row and followed another brief walkout by some dockers on Wednesday.
The government has authorised special tanker trucks to operate to make up for a shortfall in supplies from the oil terminals.
"We will put in place the necessary transportation so there will be no break in supply to the petrol stations and depots," said transport minister Dominique Bussereau.
© 2010 AFP