The cost of prolonged strike action by French refinery and oil terminal workers ...

The cost of prolonged strike action by French refinery and oil terminal workers in October on the sector has been estimated at €230mn by trade body, the Union Française des Industries Pétrolières (UFP), writes Stuart Todd. ‘Industrial action caused ships to be immobilised and refinery facilities to be shut down for a period of several weeks,’ the UFIP said, going on to underline that the cost of the strike ‘cannot be recovered and will thus directly impact the French refinery sector which is already in a fragile state from extremely difficult economic conditions’. At the height of the strikes, more than 80 vessels, mostly oil tankers and gas and chemical ships had been forced drop at anchor at the entrance to France’s biggest port for oil shipments, Marseilles, where the dispute began on 27 September. On 12 October, the Marseilles workers, striking over plans to create a subsidiary to run the port’s oil terminals, were joined by staff from oil companies operating four local refineries. This quickly escalated into action on a national scale, affecting the majority of France’s 12 refineries and led to around 30% of French service stations suffering supply problems. However, a tough government line of re-opening fuel depots by force where picket lines had been set up and requisitioning staff, prevented fuel shortages from reaching critical levels, except in one or two regions. During the strikes and independent of them, came the news that Swiss group Petroplus was planning to close its refinery in Reichstett, in eastern France, and also that Total had been given the go-ahead to close its refinery in Dunkirk, a court overturning an early judicial verdict. Both of these proposed closures provided a clear illustration of the current over-capacity affecting French refineries and the high running costs incurred in keeping a number of them in service. With little or no prospect of a government climb-down, the strikes petered out at the end of October, allowing operations to gradually return to normal. It remains to be seen whether they will have hastened the closure of more refineries as some observers in the sector fear.

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