France prepares for day of strikes as nuclear workers join labour protests


France faced an eighth day of national strikes on Thursday after workers at nuclear power stations voted to join protests against labour reforms. Blockades of fuel depots by angry unions have forced France to dip into strategic fuel reserves.

CGT energy and mining federation spokeswoman Marie-Claire Cailletaud said the strike action at nuclear plants will reduce power output but that the reactors will not stop running. The union said late Wednesday that 16 of France’s 19 nuclear stations had voted to join the strike, although CGT official Jean-Luc Daganaud said the effect on power supply would depend on how many workers decided to join the action.

Workers led by the powerful CGT union have blocked oil refineries across France over the past week in protest against the planned reforms, leading to fuel shortages in parts of the country and long queues of cars at near-empty petrol stations.

The Ufip oil industry federation has confirmed that around a third of the country’s 12,000 petrol stations were running dry.

France has nearly four months of fuel reserves and President François Hollande told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that “everything will be done to ensure the French people and the economy is supplied”.

The controversial reforms are designed to address France’s famously rigid labour market by making it easier to hire and fire workers. But opponents say they are too pro-business and will do little to reduce France’s jobless rate of around 10 percent.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned the CGT union that it “does not make the law in France” and has vowed to stand firm on the reforms.

The CGT has also vowed to keep up its industrial action until the measures are withdrawn, saying the reforms will unravel protective labour regulation, although some other unions back it.

Protesters are also angry that the government pushed the labour market reforms through parliament without a vote.

Union has called for rallies in major cities on Thursday, upping the stakes after three months of protests that brought hundreds of thousands into the streets at their peak at the end of March.

Transport takes a hit

Ahead of Thursday’s possible strike, one nuclear power plant in Nogent-sur-Seine, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) southeast of Paris, was already operating at reduced capacity.

Oil deliveries will become even more difficult on Thursday, with work stoppages scheduled at “most ports”.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has recommended that carriers cut flights at Paris Orly airport by 15 percent Thursday.

Transport has been further hampered by a rolling train strike that was due to continue Thursday. French rail operator SNCF said service across France had improved following widespread industrial actions earlier in the week, with four out of five high-speed TGV trains running. Regional RER and intercity trains are running at two-thirds capacity.

Some companies said the fuel blockades were starting to hurt their businesses.

“It’s beginning to get to a critical point,” said Pascal Barre, who runs a logistics firm in Poincy, east of the capital.

“We filled up at the end of last week and at the beginning of this week but our drivers need to fill up again and it’s not possible.”

The blockades have sparked warnings from oil giant Total, which operates five of the refineries affected, that it will be forced to reconsider its investment plans in France.

In some rare good news for Hollande on Wednesday, figures showed a 0.6 percent dip in unemployment in April — the first time the jobless roll has shrunk for two consecutive months in the past five years.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri said the drop was due to government incentives to boost hiring.

(FRANCE24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-05-26

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