The French government ordered employees at Exxon Mobil depots back to work on Tuesday as it battles to secure petrol supplies after weeks of strikes in the industry, putting it at odds with the hardline CGT union.
On Monday, management at Exxon Mobil’s Esso France reached an agreement with the majority of unions but not the CGT.
Following reports the government of President Emmanuel Macron might order staff back to work, the CGT warned earlier such a move could lead to wider unrest.
“I can guarantee you that will be war,” senior CGT energy representative Emanuel Lepine told franceinfo radio. “If Macron wants this to spread to other parts of the economy, then let him do it.”
Walkouts and unplanned maintenance at refineries run by oil majors TotalEnergies and Exxon Mobil have forced more than 60% of France’s refining capacity offline and blocked distribution from fuel depots, leading to shortages at some petrol stations.
“We want this situation to change fast,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the lower house of parliament, adding the government was prepared to take further action if needed.
“I have therefore asked the prefects, as permitted by law, to requisition the personnel needed to the functioning of the company’s depots,” she said, referring to Esso France.
The CGT responded by issuing a statement calling for action at other companies and in other sectors to show support for its workers in the petrol sector and “amplify the fight”.
The strikes come amid growing worker unrest over wages in Europe as households struggle with soaring energy and food bills, but the refineries stoppages in France are among the longest since the cost-of-living crisis intensified this year.
They have caused snaking queues at French service stations and sent diesel refining margins to record highs in Europe and the United States.
TotalEnergies’ 240,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Gonfreville refinery is offline, while deliveries of refined products are blocked at the 119,000-bpd Feyzin refinery, which is closed for unplanned maintenance but has fuel in storage, and at the Cote d’Opal and La Mede fuel depots.
Two Exxon Mobil refineries have also been out of action since late September.
France is ramping up imports to cover the production shortfall.
Diesel imports for the first 10 days of October were 37% higher than the whole of October last year, Vortexa senior market analyst Pamela Munger said.
Esso France said it had reached a salary deal with unions on Monday. Even so, it would take time for supplies to be released, said Transport Minister Clement Beaune.
Esso France said the CFE-CGC and CFDT unionised workers, who represent a majority at its sites, had agreed a 6.5% salary increase in 2023 and a 3,000 euro ($2,916) bonus. Those terms meant an overall wage increase of 10.7% plus 4,000 euros in bonuses from Jan. 1, 2022, to Dec. 31, 2023, the company added.
The deal is among the most generous offered to workers in Europe, based on recent pay deals, and may worry companies and policymakers alike that it sets a precedent.
Even so, the CGT said it had not signed off on the deal, and its workers remained on strike. It is demanding a 10% rise in the next round of wage hikes.
TotalEnergies on Sunday offered to bring forward 2023 wage negotiations but only on condition the strikes end. The CGT denounced that offer as “blackmail”.
The strikes have exacerbated discontent within trade unions towards Macron, who this autumn delayed a final decision on his contested plans for pension reforms, wary of frustration over the cost-of-living crisis.