Workers at Three French Refineries Returning to Work as Shortages Continue

Workers at three French oil refineries voted to return to work as a contested pension bill neared parliamentary approval and the government warned that fuel shortages were hurting the economy.

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s 233,000-barrel-a-day Port-Jerome- Gravenchon refinery in Normandy and its 119,000-barrel Fos refinery, near Marseille, both decided to go back to work today, Jean-Michel Maton, a CFDT union representative said in a telephone interview.

“At Port-Jerome, workers voted to end the strike this afternoon and deliveries have started from the terminal,” Exxon spokeswoman Catherine Brun said by phone. At both refineries, production is “dependent on the crude-oil supply situation as Marseille harbor is still blocked.”

France’s eight remaining active refineries are either on strike or shut because of a lack of crude oil. A 12th is mothballed. The port of Marseille has been on strike for three weeks. That labor dispute began over a reorganization of the port, though it has now become enmeshed in nationwide opposition to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to raise the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60.

The Reichstett refinery in the east of France, operated by Petroplus Holdings AG, also voted to return to work, unions said in a statement. The refinery is due to be shut and turned into a terminal. The strike continues at Petroplus’s Petit Couronne refinery in Normandy, said Sevillane Lambret, a CFDT representative.

The pension bill is due to complete its parliamentary passage within two days.

Total Strike

Total SA’s five refineries remain on strike, said Total spokesman Michael Crochet-Vourey and CFDT representative Francois Pelegrina.

France’s 11 refineries can process 1.84 million barrels of oil a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Most never went back to work after an Oct. 12 national strike.

About a quarter of France’s service stations have no gasoline.

The strikes are costing the French economy between 200 million euros ($280 million) and 400 million euros a day and are hurting France’s image overseas, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said today.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net; Nidaa Bakhsh in London at nbakhsh@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net; Stephen Voss at sev@bloomberg.net.

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