TotalEnergies must negotiate, says French finance minister as strikes increase fuel disruptions


Representatives of the French hard-left CGT union on Thursday voted to continue striking at four TotalEnergies refineries and a storage facility over wage disputes. As motorists faced another day of disruptions, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called on the major oil company to raise salaries and reach an agreement with the CGT.

More than a week after strikes reduced France‘s petrol output by over 60% and caused major disruptions at petrol stations, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said TotalEnergies had “the possibility and therefore the duty” to raise wages, adding the company had “come late” in starting talks with unions after making large profits.

Le Maire’s statement came as the French government on Thursday said it was prepared to force employees to go back to work at a TotalEnergies storage site, as the CGT union and the company remain in a gridlock over wages.

“If needed we will take measures to unblock available supplies in the Dunkirk depot”, said Energy Minister Agnes-Pannier Runacher, adding: “But I hope things will still evolve today between the CGT and Total.”

Conditions not right for talks, says TotalEnergies

First talks between the company and union leaders were held on Wednesday, but they failed to end the stalemate and a union representative on Thursday told Reuters the strikes affecting four refineries and the storage site in Dunkirk were upheld.

In a statement released on Thursday, TotalEnergies said the conditions to hold wage talks with all unions were not in place as the various blockades continue.

The French oil major also announced it would make a one-off bonus payment to its workforce.

The CGT has called for the start of negotiations “without conditions” and is demanding an immediate 10% pay rise after a surge in energy prices led to huge profits that allowed the company to pay an estimated € 8billion in dividends and an additional special dividend to investors. Like other big oil companies, TotalEnergies’ profits have soared as energy prices increased during the war in Ukraine.

General Strike

The French government was initially reluctant to inflame the situation, but in recent days officials have been forced to acknowledge the growing frustration and economic damage caused by drivers spending hours trying to fill their tanks.

“Petrol is too important for us. It’s been a nightmare for a week,” Santiago, a delivery driver, told AFP in Paris.

Having previously threatened to use emergency powers to order essential workers back on pain of fines or jail time, the government announced Wednesday it was putting them into action.

But even if key personnel are ordered back to work, “it will take at least two weeks” to restore fuel supplies, said Gil Villard, a CGT representative for Esso at the Fos-sur-Mer refinery outside Marseille, in the southeast.

At a time of high energy prices and inflation, TotalEnergies’ bumper profits have caused anger, leading to calls for a windfall tax.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and Reuters)

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