After 49.3 on pensions, the strike hardens in refineries

Will the use of 49.3 put France out of fuel? The announcement on Saturday by the CGT of the shutdown of the largest refinery in France, the TotalEnergies site in Gonfreville-L’Orcher (Seine-Maritime), marks a hardening in the conflict against the pension reform.

It had been several weeks since the refining unions had been offering the strikers the outright cessation of their working tool. But if the seven refineries in France have suspended shipments of the fuels produced there on numerous occasions since January, since the beginning of the conflict their employees did not want to take this step, the shutdown of these huge industrial installations, and their restart, being very heavy.

Until Friday, therefore, the day after the passage in force of the government in Parliament.

“The units have been stopping since last night,” the refinery’s CGT general secretary, Alexis Antonioli, told AFP on Saturday. This shutdown will take several days and should not cause immediate fuel shortages at service stations. France has 200 oil depots, and oil companies have anticipated to avoid the giant shortage of last October, caused by a dispute over wages at TotalEnergies and Esso.

Industry Minister Roland Lescure has already hinted on Saturday that the government could proceed with requisitions, as happened in the fall and as the government is currently doing in Paris for garbage collectors.

In Gonfreville-L’Orcher, near Le Havre, strikers have completely blocked fuel shipments since Thursday afternoon. The stocks on the site are therefore full today. In this case, the management of the refinery ultimately has no choice but to stop the production concerned.

“Shipments are blocked on the refining side, which induces a different operation on the very many production units”, indicated the group’s management, joined by AFP.

“Our priority is to maintain safety, which leads us to put certain units in preferential recirculation or to stop some if necessary to guarantee inventory management”, added the company, which affirms that “other units on the platform remain in normal operation and ensure their production”.

This could not last, according to Eric Sellini, CGT union coordinator for the group, who specifies that “the operations (stop) are scheduled until Monday evening”.

– Refineries in slow motion –

There are six conventional refineries in France (and one biorefinery). One is shut down for technical reasons (TotalEnergies in Donges), two are at reduced flow (TotalEnergies in Feyzin, near Lyon; Esso-ExxonMobil Fos-sur-Mer). That of TotalEnergies in Normandy is therefore being stopped.

The last two conventional refineries could, according to Eric Sellini, follow: the PétroIneos refinery in Lavéra (Bouches-du-Rhône), whose CGT predicted Friday the shutdown for Monday afternoon “at the latest”; and that of Esso-ExxonMobil in Port-Jérôme-Gravenchon (Seine-Maritime) could be shut down on Monday or Tuesday, for lack of crude oil to be refined, due to a strike at the oil depot in Le Havre.

The management of Esso-ExxonMobil, contacted by AFP, could not be reached immediately.

“Fuel deliveries are suspended for at least 24 hours” at the refinery, said CGT general secretary of ExxonMobil Germinal Lancelin. “The complete shutdown is not yet scheduled, the refinery is still idling because we are no longer delivering crude oil”, he however nuanced.

If TotalEnergies reports an average striker rate down in its refineries, to 37% among the operators on Saturday morning, this desire to harden the mobilization comes in a tense context, since production in Donges (Loire-Atlantique) is already stopped for a technical problem unrelated to the conflict.

There is also in France the TotalEnergies biorefinery in La Mède, near Marseille, whose import depot is blocked.

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