French govt slams oil giant Total's job cuts

The French government expressed anger over Total's decision to slash 550 jobs, days after the oil giant unveiled a record profit of of 13.9 billion euros (18.0 billion dollars) in 2008.


AFP - France on Tuesday attacked the "scandalous" behaviour of its biggest company, oil giant Total, after it said it would slash jobs despite reaping the highest annual profit in French corporate history.

"That a group like Total, which made billions in profits, isn't able to set an example in terms of employment at a time like this sticks in my throat," said Employment Minister Laurent Wauquiez.

"They'd be well advised to change their behaviour quickly," warned Wauquiez, who said the move by Total was "scandalous" but did not elaborate on how the government might make the company change its mind.

Total's announcement that it would shed around 550 jobs came just days after the unemployment rate here rose again to 8.2 percent, with 2.2 million people out of work.

Last week the government predicted that the global crisis would scalp a further 350,000 French private sector jobs this year, as the economy was expected to contract by up to two percent in its worst recession since 1975.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has responded to the economic crisis with a huge spending programme, but the stimulus package has so far failed to stem job losses.

Three hundred jobs are to go in Total's petrochemical arm and around 250 in its refineries, union officials were told at a specially convened meeting with management.

Philippe Goebel, managing director of Total Petrochemicals France, told AFP the posts would go at the subsidiary's French plants, offices and research centres.

He said the job cuts were a result of overcapacity in world petrochemical production and promised that the firm would create 100 new jobs in a partnership deal with GDF-Suez to produce solar panels.

Goebel insisted that there would be no compulsory redundancies and most would be through retirements.

But, coming less than a month after the Total parent company said it had made a French record profit of 13.9 billion euros (18.0 billion dollars) last year, the announcement angered both the government and unions.

Aldo Scalzo of the CGT union accused bosses of leaving French "industry on the scrapheap."

Workers at Total's Gonfreville l'Orcher refinery on France's north coast held a protest outside the plant after the job cuts were announced.

"Total says it makes 90 percent of its profits abroad, but it should not forget where it comes from and what it owes to France," said one protestor.

France has not been hit as badly as many of its neighbours by the global crisis, but the president has faced pressure to do more to safeguard jobs.

More than a million French workers took to the streets in January to voice anger and fear of job losses during a one-day strike over Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis.

A further day of strikes and protest action is scheduled for this month.


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