Endless queues at gas stations: why fuel is lacking in France

Long lines at gas stations across France are a consequence of the strike at refineries and gas stations, whose workers are demanding wage increases. About 30% of refining capacity has been affected and a third of France lacks fuel. The shutdowns impact European markets at a time of global energy shortages.

Despite pressure from the authorities, the main unions resumed strikes on Tuesday ( ) at TotalEnergies facilities, including its main refinery in Le Havre (in the north of the country), and at two refineries owned by competitor Esso-ExxonMobil.

After threatening to intervene if the situation did not normalize, the government spoke out again. The country’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, announced the call for personnel to release the fuel depots of the Esso-Exxonmobil group, which proposed a salary agreement on Monday (10), a salary increase of 6.5% in 2023, accompanied by a series of bonuses – a proposal rejected by the union strikers CGT and FO.

“Management’s announcements are significant. That’s why I asked the mayors to initiate, as permitted by law, the procedure for summoning personnel essential to the operation of the company’s warehouses”, declared Borne.

Commenting on the situation in the other oil group affected by the strike movements, TotalEnergies, the premier urged management and unions to get involved in salary negotiations.

The CGT union, which called for the strike at Total, demands a salary increase of 10% still in 2022 – 7% for inflation and 3% for wealth distribution- , but the company’s management said, initially, that it was open to negotiating only the salary of 2023.

The strikers managed to make the oil group agreed to bring forward the salary negotiation to November, but with the condition of the end of the strike, which the workers considered “blackmail”.

“Social dialogue is always more fruitful than conflict” , said the prime minister. “Failing that, the government will act, again, to unblock the situation”, he added.

“Paralyzing is not a way of negotiating”, opined President Emmanuel Macron, by “calling everyone – companies and unions – to responsibility and the speedy conclusion of negotiations” to end the strikes.

The crisis increases criticism from the opposition to Macron’s administration. The right accuses the “lack of anticipation” in relation to previous strike threats and calls for quick action by the government, while the extreme left criticizes the “threats to workers” and “caresses to bosses”.

Risks to the food sector

The Cold Logistics Channel (free translation for La Chaîne Logistique du Froid), an association that brings together 120 refrigerated transport companies warned on Tuesday against “interruptions in the delivery of food products to the French” if fuel shortages due to strikes persist. “The blockades of oil refineries are confronting companies that transport perishable food”, highlighted the group in a press release.

According to the association, which claims to federate 120 companies with a total of 50 thousand workers and about 2017 thousand refrigerated trucks, “among the transporters that have cisterns, the available reserves are, in some cases, less than a week”.

“Most professionals have products for only three or four days”, said Jean-Marc Rivera, General Delegate of the Organization of European Road Transport Operators (OTRE), to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Professionals affected by the lack of fuel

“I couldn’t find fuel today to go to work, even after standing in line for three hours. I also had to cancel the trip to visit my parents for the weekend, as they need my help”, said Émilie Dupas, a nurse from Bron, in the Rhône-Alpes region, to Gazeta do Povo.

The situation is similar to Gilles Thimonier, from Lyon: “This crisis is not just about fuel. It affects everyone’s work, in the most diverse areas. It’s chaos and I don’t know when things will get back to normal”, described the French lawyer.

About 30 )% of gas stations in the country face supply difficulties, and in some regions fuel shortages affect almost 60% of establishments, according to the Ministry of Energy Transition.

The car remains one of the main means of transport in the most diverse professional areas. In 2017, three quarters of 24, 6 million workers interviewed by the government said they use this type of vehicle.

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