Strikes to continue despite Total's pledge not to cut French jobs
French union CGT called on workers in six Total oil plants across France to keep on striking after talks with the company's management on Sunday reached a deadlock, sparking fears of petrol shortages in the coming days.
AFP - Striking workers at French oil giant Total on Sunday raised the threat of petrol shortages in the coming days, pushing their demands as families hit the road for mid-term school holidays.
"If negotiations break down, fuel shortages will be on the agenda from next week," said the CGT union in a statement as it prepared to meet on Sunday with management over the five-day old strike.
Total's management said Friday it had started gradually halting refining operations
after unions announced an open-ended stoppage at all of Total's six French refineries, in protest at the closure of a plant in Dunkirk.
Refining at Dunkirk has been halted by a strike that started last month. Unions said another refinery in Donges, western France could shut down from Monday and another at Grandpuits, near Paris from Tuesday.
Total's depots supply about half of France's filling stations. Seven of the country's 31 depots were disrupted as of Friday.
Total said there was no immediate risk of shortages, while the French Petroleum Industry Union said the country's depots had up to three weeks' worth of fuel.
But the leader of the CGT, Bernard Thibault, warned: "A country like France does not have the capacity and the reserves to live for long with its refineries shut down," in comments on television station France 2.
The energy giant sparked the protest when it announced last month that it was studying a permanent closure of a refinery in Dunkirk, which employs 370 people directly and 450 sub-contractors.
Total says no jobs will be cut and it will not close any other refineries.
Total managers sat down with unions on Sunday afternoon for what the company said would be "long" talks at its Paris headquarters. The government meanwhile stepped in to pressure Total to keep the plant open.
Industry Minister Christian Estrosi met with Total's chief executive Christophe de Margerie and said afterwards that Total was "committed to doing everything" to keep the Dunkirk site open even if it stopped refining.
Total has come under government pressure to guarantee jobs after President Nicolas Sarkozy said that fighting unemployment was a top priority.
But the company says it is working to adapt to falling demand due to the economic crisis and a shift towards cleaner energy.
"Things have changed drastically in this business," Margerie said in an interview in the weekly Journal de Dimanche.
Total posted a 44-percent year-on-year drop in profits in 2009 due to falling prices. Profits fell to 7.8 billion euros (10.9 billion dollars).
"We are working to make our sites adapted to the change in demand," Margerie said. "This resource must remain competitive in the long term."