News wire — French energy major TotalEnergies on Thursday started talks with trade unions to break a deadlock over a third week of strikes in refineries and fuel depots which have sapped the country’s petrol supplies.
The talks came less than a day after President Emmanuel Macron’s government told the group, which has earned bumper profits as energy prices have spiralled higher, to pay its workers more.
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The industrial action has reduced France’s refinery capacity by more than 60% and left one in three petrol stations struggling for fuel.
The government requisitioned key workers at refineries on Wednesday and Thursday to get fuel flowing again, but the impact of that measure was limited, with 29.1% of gas stations nationwide reporting supply problems on Thursday, compared to 30.8% on Wednesday, energy ministry data showed.
The blockades spread this week to other energy companies, including nuclear giant EDF, where walkouts are delaying maintenance and fuel reloading at a time when the French utility is already struggling to get enough reactors back online for winter amid a wider European energy crisis.
“If one knows the profits which they made … companies which have the capacity have a duty to raise wages and Total is one of them”, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL radio, adding it was late to start talks with the CGT trade union.
The government is wary of the strikes morphing into broader social unrest. Underlying the risk, the hard-left CGT union called for a rail strike next week and street protests are planned for Sunday.
In a joint statement with other unions including Force Ouvriere, Solidaires and FSU, the CGT called demonstrations and a cross-industry strike on Tuesday.
TotalEnergies said it had invited unions to talks at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) after initial discussions on Wednesday failed.
The moderate CFDT union welcomed the talks and said it would participate. CGT tweeted that it would take part along with other unions.
Earlier, TotalEnergies announced it would make a one-off bonus payment to its workforce worldwide.
The payment would amount to a month’s salary, to be paid in December, the company said, adding that it had also told unions it was ready to consider a pay increase in 2023 of 6%, to match inflation in 2022.
The government has instructed police to issue orders for a small number of refinery and depot strikers to return to work, including at a fuel storage site in the northern port town of Dunkirk. A Reuters photographer later saw a small convoy of fuel trucks leaving.
The CGT remains on strike at Esso’s Gravenchon-Port Jerome depot. Its energy sector branch said on Thursday workers at an Engie gas storage facility also remained on strike.
Meanwhile, the CGT said its staff were ending a strike at a refinery run by ExxonMobil’s French business, Esso France. However, the union added the industrial action underway at five TotalEnergies sites would continue.\
Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Pascal Rossignol, Elizabeth Pineau and Geert De Clercq; writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Alexander Smith, David Evans and Bernadette Baum – Reuters
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