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Total to meet unions to end French refinery strike

February 23/2010

February 23 (Bloomberg) -- Total SA, the French refiner grappling with a nationwide strike, will meet with unions today in an effort to end a dispute that threatens fuel shortages.


Michael Crochet-Vourey, a spokesman for the Paris-based company, confirmed the meeting in a telephone interview yesterday. The strike started Feb. 17 in an effort to secure jobs at an idled plant near Dunkirk. Workers at Exxon Mobil Corp.’s French plants are scheduled to join the walkout today.


The Confederation Generale du Travail union said yesterday it wouldn’t advise members to return to work until management resumes talks to seek a “global” settlement, representative Philippe Saunier said by telephone.


Total, Europe’s largest refiner, has six French plants with a total capacity of 1.08 million barrels a day. Some filling stations have run dry as drivers rush to buy diesel and gasoline before shutdowns stop refinery production.


“We have operational reserves of seven to 10 days,” Jean- Louis Schilansky, head of industry group Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres, said on BFM radio today. “Should the situation become really critical, there are still strategic reserves.”


Total said it would hold a works council meeting with unions on March 8, three weeks earlier than scheduled, to discuss plans for the Flanders site as well as refining in France. The Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail union said that advancement was a “step forward,” and recommended members end their six-day strike.


Today’s meeting was arranged “at the Elysee’s request,” Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Europe1 radio, referring to the presidential palace. Greater consumption of alternative fuel meant the oil market was changing, and the “change must be accommodated,” he said.


Unions had called on Total management to arrange a meeting earlier to give workers more details about the future of the Flanders plant, which was idled in September amid a drop in fuel demand. Total, which has faced government pressure to maintain jobs in the run-up to March’s regional elections, said Feb. 1 it was delaying a final decision on the site even as management said refining would be permanently halted.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Total Chairman Thierry Desmarest yesterday to discuss the strikes, an Elysee Palace official said. Regional elections will take place on March 14 and 21.


Besides Flanders, Total’s plants are at Gonfreville in Normandy, Donges, Provence, Feyzin and Grandpuits. The refineries supply about 50 percent of French fuel demand, while its 4,000 gasoline stations have about 25 percent of the market.


Total reiterated it won’t close or sell any of its other French refineries and said all employees at the Flanders plant will retain jobs with the company.


“As we have said no refineries are under consideration as far as closures are concerned,” Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie said in New York yesterday. “Our priority is to stop this conflict and certainly not use the fear of consumers to put pressure” on workers, he said.


Ineos Group Holdings Plc’s Lavera oil refinery in France “continues to operate as normal,” spokesman Richard Longden said today in an e-mailed statement. Workers at Petroplus Holdings AG’s two French refineries have no immediate plans to join the strike by Total employees, according to a CFDT union representative.

Total to Meet Unions to End French Refinery Strike









































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