France requisitions refinery workers as energy strikes continue

FILE PHOTO: French energy workers on strike raise their hands in approval to vote on wether to continue their strike to protest against French government's pension reform plan in front of the oil giant TotalEnergies refinery in Donges as French parliament set to vote on pensions reform bill, France, March 16, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

PARIS (Reuters) – Several French refineries were still blocked from delivering products on Tuesday after two weeks of strikes, disrupting production and power supply, while attempts to requisition workers at the Fos depot sparked scuffles with police.

The industrial action is part of a nationwide movement against pension system changes including an increase to the retirement age in France by two years to 64, which was forced through parliament without a vote.

French president Emmanuel Macron is looking to push on past the disputes with new reforms in the coming weeks after his government barely survived a no-confidence motion on Monday over the decision to force through the pension bill.

The French government has taken steps to order workers to resume operations at the Fos depot operated by Gas Depots of Fos (DPF), government minister Clement Beaune said.

The requisition is for three employees per shift and is valid for 48 hours as needed, the French energy ministry said.

Fights broke out at the Fos site after the requisition order and three police officers were seriously injured, with BFM TV showing the refinery enveloped in tear gas, while some demonstrators threw objects at the police line.

Fuel stations are generally well supplied at a national level, but tensions in supply are forming in some regions in the south of France, energy minister Agn├Ęs Pannier-Runacher said.

Strategic reserves of fuel have been utilised “in a targeted manner” since the beginning of March, the energy ministry said. The ministry did not provide detail of any shortages, saying strategic stocks are confidential data.

REDUCED POWER CAPACITY

Deliveries have also been disrupted at the Port-Jerome Gravenchon site operated by ExxonMobil subsidiary Esso, which has had its production reduced according to the supply of crude from the Le Havre terminal, a company spokesperson said.

Fuel product loading at Fos is still impacted and production is also adjusted, the spokesperson added.

The Normandy refinery operated by oil major TotalEnergies will be shut down on Tuesday because of the strike, a company spokesperson said, as the industrial action against the pension changes stretched into its 14th day.

Production disruptions at other sites operated by TotalEnergies remained unchanged, the spokesperson added.

On the electricity side, French power capacity was reduced by 15.6 gigawatts (GW) because of strike disruption at nuclear, thermal and hydropower plants, a union official said.

That equates to 28% of French power supply on Tuesday morning, grid operator RTE data showed. However, France was exporting 1.6 GW to neighbours, the RTE data showed, suggesting that domestic supply is enough to meet demand.

Maintenance was also blocked at 11 French reactors, including the Penly 1 reactor that was found to have stress corrosion cracks this month, the CGT spokesperson added.

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