Petrol runs short as French labour reform protests block refineries

23rd May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Petrol shortages caused long tailbacks of motorists in parts of France Monday, as protesters angry over government labour reforms blockaded some of the country's oil refineries and fuel depots.

The action was the latest in three months of strikes and protests against the draft law that has set the Socialist government against some of its traditional supporters and sometimes descended into violence.

The northwest of the country was worst hit over the weekend. As deliveries dwindled, drivers were forced to seek out petrol stations that had not run out of fuel.

The situation was exacerbated by some motorists rushing to stock up because they feared supplies were about to run out.

"Talking about a shortage creates the shortage," said Finance Minister Michel Sapin.

Local authorities in some regions imposed rationing to eke out the supplies and police moved in to free some fuel depots from blockades over the weekend.

But on Monday, six out of eight French refineries were hit by strike action, said the CGT.

The government said 1,500 of the country's 12,000 petrol stations had run dry at the weekend, but did not have up-to-date figures for how many had no fuel Monday.

The Total group said 509 of its 2,200 stations had either run out or were suffering shortages, up from 390 the previous day.

- Burning tyres -

CGT official Eric Sellini said activists had blockaded 189 fuel depots for several days, though police had since cleared protesters from some of them. He was unable to say how many were still blocked.

To add to the disruption, tailbacks were building up at those stations still open, slowing traffic on the surrounding roads.

In the cities of Nantes, Rennes and Brest in the northwest, motorists were waiting up to an hour to get to the pumps.

In the southeast at Fos-sur-Mer, near the Mediterranean port of Marseille, about 500 union activists blocked roads leading to a fuel depot with burning tyres. Another road to the nearby refinery was also blocked.

And in Donges, near Nantes on the northwest coast, union activists used wooden pallets and burning tyres to block access to a fuel depot there.

But France's Socialist government has made it clear it will stand by the controversial labour reforms.

Speaking during a visit to Israel on Sunday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the blockade of the fuel depots and said the authorities would keep working to lift them.

"I'm asking everyone to face up to reality, not to put the country's economy in difficulty and to respect the users," Valls told BFMTV.

- PM defiant -

In a gesture to road haulage drivers over the weekend, the government promised that their overtime bonuses would not be hit by the reforms as they had feared.

But another day of strikes and demonstrations against the draft law is planned for Thursday.

"If the government does not withdraw its plan... the mobilisation will continue and increase," said the CGT's general secretary Philippe Martinez.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin condemned the CGT's attitude.

It was perfectly acceptable to protest against a proposed law or to make political demands, he said. "But there is a certain point... at which the action becomes illegitimate," he told iTELE.

The government forced the labour reform bill through the lower house of parliament earlier this month without a vote.

The government says the new law will make France's notoriously rigid labour market more flexible and create jobs.

Opponents say the reforms will erode job security and do little to bring down the unemployment rate, stuck at 10 percent and nearly 25 percent for young people.

The proposed law has led to months of strikes, protest marches and demonstrations.

Last week, train drivers and air traffic controllers walked off the job, causing cancellations across the country.

Many of the rallies and demonstrations have ended in confrontation between masked youths and riot police.

Over the past two months, some 350 members of the security forces have been injured during demonstrations.

© 2016 AFP

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