Energy crunch, transport chaos as French down tools

Unions say power output in France has fallen by at least 5 gigawatts after members of the CGT union at utility EDF joined a rolling nationwide strike against planned government reforms.
Drivers forming a queue yesterday at a petrol station in Paris amid blockades of several oil depots by protesters opposed to labour law reforms that make it easier to hire and fire workers.
Drivers forming a queue yesterday at a petrol station in Paris amid blockades of several oil depots by protesters opposed to labour law reforms that make it easier to hire and fire workers.PHOTO: REUTERS

Workers go on strike, unionists block bridges to demand scrapping of labour reform Bill

PARIS • Striking French workers disrupted oil refineries and nuclear power stations and halted planes and trains yesterday in mounting industrial action against labour market reforms.

Union activists blocked bridges while train drivers and air traffic controllers walked off the job.

With two weeks to go before France hosts the Euro 2016 football championships, unions called for rolling strikes on the Paris Metro to start on June 10, the day of the opening match.

Fresh rallies were due to be held in Paris and other cities as part of the protests aimed at forcing the government to withdraw a planned labour reform Bill designed to make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers.

The government has said the reforms will boost jobs and growth.

Under-fire Prime Minister Manuel Valls yesterday said while the labour law would not be withdrawn, it might still be possible to make "changes" or "improvements".

He also branded the CGT union driving the protests "irresponsible", reiterating that it could not "impose legislation". He is set to meet representatives of the oil industry tomorrow, his office said.

The latest bout of social unrest started around three months ago and has frequently turned violent.

Unions called off some blockades on fuel depots and refineries in the north, but many motorists were still stuck in long queues at petrol stations around France.

All but three of the country's 19 power stations have voted to down tools, the CGT said. RTE, the body overseeing the national power network, said the stoppages were not having an immediate effect on the electricity supply.

A third of petrol stations were dry or dangerously low on fuel after several days of blockades at refineries by union activists.

France gets 75 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power.

Meanwhile, strikes forced Orly airport in Paris to ground 15 per cent of flights and the commuter and national train networks were hit, with one in five high-speed trains cancelled.

The CGT has called for another day of action on June 14, raising concerns for fans travelling to Euro 2016 matches being held at 10 venues around France.

The government has been forced to tap into its strategic reserves that last nearly four months, and President Francois Hollande has vowed to do "everything... to ensure that the French people and the economy are supplied".

The unions are demanding that the reforms be scrapped altogether, seeing them as too pro-business and unlikely to bring down high unemployment.

Unions say they have popular support for the protests and were cheered by a poll carried out yesterday that showed that nearly two-thirds of people approved the actions.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline 'Energy crunch, transport chaos as French down tools'. Print Edition | Subscribe