AFP - Top executives at French energy giant GDF Suez decided Thursday to give up a lucrative package of stock options after workers went on strike in protest.
Chairman and chief executive Gerard Mestrallet and vice president Jean-Francois Cirelli opted to part with the benefits "in the interests of responsibility," said a GDF Suez statement.
The announcement came after hundreds of workers at a GDF Suez gas terminal near Marseille went on strike to demand wage increases and protest the stock options given to the group's bosses.
Workers at the Fos-sur-Mer terminal walked off the job Wednesday evening after GDF Suez confirmed it had given stock options estimated at more than 10 million euros (14 million dollars) to the two top executives.
"This was the last straw," said union representative Robert Rozy.
"We have a hard time swallowing this sort of announcement when we are constantly told that there is a crisis and no room for raising salaries."
The French energy giant this month reported a 13-percent rise in 2008 net profit to 6.5 billion euros and said operating results would rise again this year despite the economic crisis.
The French state is the number one shareholder in GDF Suez, with a 35.7 stake.
The French government said Thursday it would pass a decree banning executive bonuses and stock options at state-aided French firms.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said this week that bailed-out companies that are forced to lay off staff should not be handing out bonuses, stock options or golden parachutes to their executives.
GDF Suez has not announced layoffs, nor has it received a state bail-out, but the strikers are pressing for wage increases they feel the company can afford given its multi-billion profits.
Sarkozy's chief of staff Claude Gueant told a French television interview that "a little restraint would be appropriate" when it came to executive pay at the firm.
Workers at several storage sites and gas terminals went on strike Monday to press demands for pay increases, union officials said.
"There are disruptions at all of our facilities. They are not completely paralysed, but they are not able to carry out all activities," said a GDF Suez spokesman.
About 500 workers were on strike at Fos-sur-Mer and another terminal on the Atlantic, while 880 employees walked off the job at 12 storage sites, union officials said.