France taps strategic oil reserves as strikes escalate


A protester raises his fist as riot police prepare to disperse refinery workers who are blockading the oil depot of Douchy-les-Mines, , to protest the government’s proposed labor reforms on May 25, 2016. (AFP photo)

France says it has been forced to dip into strategic oil reserves due to the crippling strikes that have been going on in the country’s oil industry over the past couple of days.
“For the past two days, since there have been operational problems at the refineries and blockades of depots, we have been using reserve supplies,” said Francis Duseux, the president of the French Union of Petroleum Industries (UFIP), on Wednesday.
So far, five out of France’s eight refineries have stopped or lowered their production, and many regions, including the capital, Paris, are experiencing fuel shortages as a result.
At its best, the country’s fuel reserves can afford fuel for four months; and a gloomy picture for consumers is looming on the horizon if strikes linger on.

A sign reading “Shortage” is pictured in front of an empty gas station in Paris, on May 25, 2016, as strikes at refineries and fuel depots continue.  (AFP photo)

Duseux said consumers have gone on the panic-buying mode, itself exacerbating the situation.
“We are all filling our tanks as a precaution because we are afraid, and consumption has multiplied by three times or even five times in some areas,” he said.
The strikes and the blockading of depots by industry workers come in opposition to government-proposed labor reforms.
The French government says the reforms are aimed at boosting the country’s economy and curbing the high unemployment rate. Protesters and workers’ unions, however, say the government wants to make it easier and less costly for employers to lay off workers, calling the reforms an attack on workers’ rights.

Workers strike in front of a Total refinery to protest against the government’s planned labor law reforms, in the town of Feyzin, France, May 23, 2016. (AFP photo)

French President François Hollande has attempted to calm fears in the face of the fuel shortage.
“Everything will be done to ensure the supply [of petrol] for the French people and the economy,” he said on Wednesday.
Nuclear plant workers to join strikes
The CGT, one of France’s largest trade unions and the leading force in spreading the strikes, has called for the industrial action to be extended to nuclear power stations, which supply three fourth of the country’s electricity.
The union had earlier announced that 16 out of France’s 19 nuclear stations had agreed to join the strikes. It has also called for more protest rallies in major cities.

Striking workers block access to an oil depot near the Total refinery in Donges, in western France, May 23, 2016. (AFP photo)

The government has struck a defiant note, saying it will continue to push for the reforms and will step up efforts to remove the blockades at oil depots and refineries.
On Tuesday, French riot police, using tear gas and water cannons, dismantled a barricade set up by the workers of the Esso refinery in the town of Fos-sur-Mer near Marseille to block the passage of oil tankers, and on Wednesday, they dispersed protesters blocking an oil depot at Douchy-les-Mines near the Belgian border with similar means.
The government reforms, which include a loosening of the maximum 35-hour working week and a cap on redundancy payments, were recently forced through the lower house of the French parliament through controversial means but must still be debated in the Senate, the upper house of the bicameral legislature.

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