‘Let’s not panic’ Macron tries to calm country amid petrol strikes

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Emmanuel Macron has tried to calm rising anger in France as continued energy sector strikes see a third of petrol stations struggling with fuel shortages. Strikes by workers at TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil over pay have disrupted major storage facilities and refineries, leading to winding queues at petrol stations and rising fears among businesses. The number of petrol stations facing shortages is up 21 percent from yesterday as the union agrees to talks this week. This represents the majority of TotalEnergies’ network of around 3,500 petrol stations.

Three out of six refineries are currently shut down in France due to worker strikes that have cut production by 60 percent – equivalent to 740,000 barrels of petrol per day. But even with these formidable figures, president of the Système U retail chain, Dominique Schelcher, told FranceInfo radio that the government figure underestimated the disruption.

He said: “Only the west [of France] will have fuel stocks,” adding that “it was impossible to order” fuel in the north, east and south of France for this weekend.

On Friday Mr Macron called for calm on all sides of the row, saying: “Let’s not panic.”

He added that executives at Total should take into account the “legitimate salary demands” of its workers.

The strike was called by French union CGT over a week ago, calling for action against TotalEnergies as part of a broader action across the French energy sector. Workers are demanding salary increases amid the cost of living crisis and massive profits for the energy industry.

In the second trimester of 2022, TotalEnergies recorded profits of $5.7billion, compared with $2.2million during the same period in 2021. CGT’s demands include a tax on these profits and a 10 percent salary increase for workers.

This figure is made up of 7 percent to counter inflation, and 3 percent “profit-sharing” – and has been supported by many energy workers. Queues have been seen stretching for hours from petrol stations due to the resulting shortages – but it is also proving a significant problem for businesses.

Services such as delivery companies, medical assistance, logistics chains and taxi companies are all bearing the brunt of the shortages, and have been thrown into chaos.

France’s energy minister, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, has attempted to calm nerves, saying in a statement today: “The Government is doing its utmost to restore the situation to normal as soon as possible.”

She added: “A solution to this conflict must be found as soon as possible.”

The energy boss said France has released strategic reserves and increased their imports, claiming these “additional volumes” would allow the situation to “improve throughout the day on Monday”.

CGT representative Pedro Afonso told AFP that “100 percent of dispatch workers were on strike for the 6am shift”, adding: “Normally there are 250 to 300 trucks every day and 30 to 50 rail carriages. Now nothing can get out.”

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Christophe Aubert, another CGT representative, added that around 70 percent of ExxonMobil workers were also on strike.

He said: “It’s the same workforce on shift all weekend, so nothing’s going to move and nothing is getting out.”

In a statement given today, Total proposed bringing forward their annual wage talks to October, “provided the blockades will end and all labour representatives agree”.

Eric Sellini, a CGT coordinator at TotalEnergies, said they were “ready to start negotiations on Monday based on our wage claim alone”.

France’s Minister of Transport Clement Beaune said that there was no problem with supply in France on Saturday.

He said shortages are a “localised phenomena, related to social movements”, while urging companies and trade unions to act with “responsibility”.

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