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TotalEnergies said Friday that the company had signed a salary agreement with two French unions. However, with the hardline CGT union pulling out of the negotiations, France continued to struggle with fuel shortages ahead of a public sector general strike next week.
Under the terms of an agreement with unions CFDT and CFE-CGC, TotalEnergies said on Friday that the company had agreed to a seven percent increase in salaries by 2023.
But with the hardline CGT union, which initiated the union action, abandoned Thursday night’s discussions and renewed their strike call on Friday, France faced a widening fuel shortage.
Four of the country’s seven refineries remained closed, and about a third of the country’s gas stations are either nearly empty or completely dry, according to the Ministry of Energy Transition.
The French Association of Wholesale Suppliers warned that deliveries from Friday would be “seriously compromised” as motorists once again faced long queues hoping to fill up before the weekend.
The breakthrough with the two unions came around 3:30 a.m. local time after nearly six hours of talks when representatives from CFDT and CFE-CGC said they supported the proposed seven percent pay increase and a €3–6,000 bonus.
The union action, which started on September 27, has blocked TotalEnergies’ refineries and fuel depots, leading to nationwide fuel shortages and a crisis for President Emmanuel Macron’s government as calls for a general strike mount.
CGT representative Alexis Antonioli called the negotiations a “charade” and said TotalEnergies’ proposals were “largely inadequate”.
“It won’t do anything to change the attackers’ determination or prospects,” Antonioli said.
French railway workers and officials represented by CGT voted to join the strikers at the oil refinery on a national day of strikes next Tuesday, raising fears that anger over rising inflation could turn into a series of blockades.
The famous militant CGT said it not only pushed for higher wages for railway workers, but also wanted to express anger at the government’s intervention.
Facing frustrated companies and an increasingly alarmed public, Macron’s government has invoked emergency powers to force some striking refinery workers back to work.
He promised a return to normal “during the next week”.
Six of the seven refineries have been affected by the strikes, causing huge queues at gas stations and increasing frustration among motorists.
“It’s been a disaster,” said Francoise Ernst, a driving instructor. “We can’t work anymore.”
Only one refinery has been able to resolve the strike so far. At the Esso-ExxonMobil-owned Fos-sur-Mer site, an agreement was signed with CFDT and CFE-CGC on Monday, but the terms were also rejected by CGT.
“The time for a confrontation (with the government) has come,” left-wing opposition MP Clementine Autain of the France Unbowed party told France 2 on television on Thursday.
Left-wing political parties are seizing the strikes to spark a protest movement against Macron and the rising cost of living, with a rally scheduled for Sunday.
Leading Greens legislator Sandrine Rousseau has said she hoped the impasse at the refinery would “be the spark that starts a general strike”.
But not all unions have joined the call for a general strike next Tuesday, with the country’s largest, the CFDT, opting out.
Sympathy and Anger
Until Tuesday, the government was reluctant to stir up the wage dispute at the French energy group TotalEnergies and the American giant Esso-ExxonMobil.
TotalEnergies made a net profit of $5.7 billion in the April-June period and pays out billions to shareholders as its employees push for higher wages.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL radio that given this year’s huge profits, it had “the capacity…and thus the obligation” to raise workers’ wages.
With 30 percent of French service stations running out of fuel, especially those in the Paris region and the north, the government has begun requisitioning workers from fuel depots, forcing them back to work or risking prosecution.
Following an ExxonMobil depot on Wednesday, a TotalEnergies site in northern France was requisitioned on Thursday, with the first loaded fuel tanks protected by police leaving in the afternoon.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s office said the emergency measures were justified because of a “real economic threat” to northern France, which relies heavily on agriculture, fisheries and industry.
But unions have reacted furiously to the government intervention.
“What we see here is the Macronian dictatorship,” CGT official Benjamin Tange told AFP. The current union action, he said, stemmed from “the anger of several months, several years and a break in social dialogue”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)