PARIS – The Latest on France’s strikes and protests against the government’s labour reforms (all times local):
Residents in the English Channel port city of Le Havre have mixed feelings about the crippling strikes against a divisive labour law reform in France.
While some are fearful of dangerous fuel shortages, others are more stoic.
Union members at a major oil terminal Le Havre plan to block imports Thursday as part of broader one-day strikes against the labour bill.
Francoise Le Bon and Denis Jamet, both 65, say they have been struck by how quiet the city is.
Le Bon described the atmosphere as “weird.”
Neither seemed particularly bothered by the fuel shortages, although they did say others in their circle were anxious.
Both identified as left-wing, but neither fully supported the strikers.
Le Bon said that he found the law “a little slapdash, even if we’re not totally for what the CGT (union) is doing.”
Workers at France’s eight oil refineries are divided over whether to join strikes that are angering consumers by causing nationwide gasoline shortages.
The Total refinery and petrochemical complex at Gonfreville-L’Orcher, outside the English Channel port city of Le Havre, was nearly deserted Wednesday, save for a skeleton staff keeping the machinery going. The facility handles some 12 million tons of crude oil annually.
About 30 kilometres (18 miles) away on the bank of the Seine River, the ExxonMobil refinery in Notre-Dame-de-Gravenchon, was still working normally, according to union activists gathering outside the facility.
They said only a third of the employees had chosen to strike against the government’s proposed labour reform, and white tankers could still be seen moving across the sprawling complex.
Outside, Gerald Le Corre, a 45-year-old government labour inspector who had come from Rouen to show solidarity with the strikers, said the protests were as much against the political status quo as the labour bill.
“There’s no difference between the (right wing) Republicans and the (left wing) Socialists,” he said. “If you remove the labels we just see governments in the service of big business.”
France’s interior minister is insisting that violent labour protests and strikes causing gas shortages won’t jeopardize the upcoming European Championship soccer tournament or other sporting events.
Some 1,500 people have been detained in recent weeks and hundreds of French police officers have been injured in breaking up protests and dislodging protesters from fuel depots.
The tensions have added to concern about security for Europe’s top soccer gathering, which is already facing what Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has called the “double threat” of violent Islamic extremism and hooliganism.
Cazeneuve told reporters Wednesday that the government respects the right to strike and does not see the labour movement as a “threat.” He said it won’t disrupt protecting the June 10-July 10 championship, involving an unprecedented 90,000 people ensuring security.
France’s junior minister for transportation says France has used three out of 115 days of fuel reserves to deal with gasoline shortages caused by strikes and protests over a proposed labour reform bill.
Alain Vidalies says about 40 per cent of the gas stations in the Paris region have been hit by partial or total fuel shortages. He says 11 fuel depots have been unblocked by the police since the protests against the government’s labour policies started last week.
Vidalies insists that no decision about requisitioning any refinery has been made by the government because the main issue is to ensure access to the fuel depots.
The government labour bill extends the work week and makes layoffs easier.
French drivers are hunting for gasoline or waiting in long lines to get it — and grumbling about strikes that are causing fuel shortages.
Fouad Rharib, in line Wednesday at a crowded gas station on the western edge of Paris, says “our two cars are on the minimum level of petrol and we need to drive our children to school and to go at work. … it is unacceptable.”
Another customer, Olivier Criq, expressed support for the labour protests but not the fuel strikes. He says “I agree with the right to strike, but I don’t agree with the blockade. They can go to block government ministries and the (president’s) Elysee palace. It is not normal that the French people are being held hostage like this.”
Unions are leading strikes at fuel depots and refineries as part of a nationwide labour movement against a government labour reform bill that extends the work week and makes layoffs easier.
France has started using its fuel reserves to deal with gasoline shortages caused by strikes and protests over a bill weakening worker protections.
Unions are targeting the nation’s gas tanks, railroads and electricity network this week as they try to push the government to drop the labour reform, devised to make France more globally competitive by extending the work week and making layoffs easier. Opponents say it will enrich company bosses and won’t create the jobs it promises.
The head of the group overseeing France’s petroleum industry, UFIP, said Wednesday on RMC radio the government has approved the use of fuel stocks for the past two days.
Francis Duseux said there are about three months of reserves that could be used if needed. He acknowledged “the situation is tense” but attributed it to panic buying. “Demand is so high that we aren’t managing to keep up,” he said.
Unions have blocked depots and refineries around France to try to bring road traffic to a halt. Workers at a major oil terminal in the port of Le Havre plan a strike Thursday to block imports.
Riot police forced striking workers out of a fuel depot early Wednesday in Douchy-les-Mines in northern France that had been blocked for several days, Sud union member Willy Dans tells BFM television.
Meanwhile, train drivers also are staging a one-day strike Wednesday. The SNCF national rail authority said 25 per cent of high-speed TGV trains have been were cancelled, and a similar number of regional and commuter trains are affected.
And workers at the country’s nuclear plants — source of the majority of France’s electricity — plan a one-day strike Thursday. State-run Electricite de France would not comment on the eventual consequences for electricity supplies around the country.