French President Emmanuel Macron called a crisis meeting with top ministers on Monday to deal with serious strikes at gas refineries that have dried up fuel pumps.
Macron said Monday that he wanted to find a solution to the protests “as soon as possible” and promised that he would “do his best” to find one, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Strikers at two fuel depots in Feyzine, near Lyon, were ordered by the government to return to work for several hours on Monday or face prosecution, according to French Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher.
Lyon is one of the worst affected regions in the country, with almost 40% of petrol stations running out of at least one fuel on Sunday. Elsewhere, nearly a third of gas stations have run out of at least one fuel, and the situation is expected to worsen this week, according to French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.
It is the second time in recent weeks that the French government has taken the unusual step of calling for essential workers in the face of week-long strikes at refineries owned by ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies, which have disrupted supplies to thousands of gas stations.
Although ExxonMobil workers agreed to end the lockout at the Fos-sur-Mer refinery and warehouse in southern France following wage negotiations late last week, strikes continue at TotalEnergies refineries.
One of France’s largest unions, the CGT, has refused to accept the terms of the wage deal agreed by TotalEnergies and two other unions, CFE-CGC and CFDT. The agreement includes a 7% salary increase by 2023 and a bonus for all workers equivalent to one month’s salary. The CGT has asked for a 10% salary increase.
But French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the strikes were “unacceptable and illegitimate” because pay agreements with most workers had been met. “The time for negotiations is over,” he added.
In an interview with France Inter, a radio station, CGT representative Philippe Martinez said “several thousand” workers were still on strike, contradicting government ministers who referred to the striking workers as “a handful” and “several workers”. . a hundred people” in interviews.
Transport Minister Clement Beaune told France Inter that the only way out of the crisis is to end the strikes.
Meanwhile, commuters could face days of travel chaos if planned strikes on Paris’ public transport network and the national rail network go ahead. Beaune said only one out of two trains will run in the worst affected regions on Tuesday.
The industrial action comes against the backdrop of rising living costs in France, where electricity bills are rising due to cuts in Russian natural gas supplies, and has fueled an energy crisis in Europe. On Sunday, thousands of people marched through central Paris to protest the crisis and “climate inaction”.