Hollande Vows to Press New French Labor Law as Unions Resist

  • Total says gasoline shortage has diminished in stations
  • Electricity generation returns almost to normal levels

President Francois Hollande said he won’t back down on changes to French labor law that he’s currently pushing through parliament in the face of strikes, gasoline shortages and opposition from his own lawmakers.

“We can’t accept that there are unions that dictate the law,” Hollande said Friday at a press conference in Ise-Shima, Japan. “As head of state, I want this reform. It fits with everything we have done for four years. I want us to go right to the end.”

A week after unions voted to halt work at French refineries and days after motorists began queuing to stock up on gasoline, the remarks underline that the Socialist president intends to push through changes to labor laws in spite of resistance in the street. After earlier protests, Hollande’s government in March watered down elements of the bill, such as scrapping limits on severance pay.

This week, though, Hollande has stood firm. His government ordered police to break through barricades to allow tanker trucks to access fuel depots and ensure that supplies are brought to service stations. Even so, with drivers tanking up earlier than usual, about 30 percent of the country’s 12,200 stations across the country are short of some fuels, according to the government’s latest estimate.

France has used three days of emergency reserves out of 115 days worth of supply, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said Thursday.

Total SA, France’s largest oil company, said Friday that the supplies to its service stations had improved, though more of its refineries had stopped operating. The company said 297 of its 2,200 French gas stations are completely out of stock as of 5 p.m. Friday, while 362 lack some fuels, down from 353 and 431 respectively at about noon on Thursday.

Output from four of Total’s five French refineries is now completely halted, with the fifth operating at reduced capacity.

Output at Electricite de France SA returned to normal Friday after walkouts cut
more than 5,000 megawatts of combined output at a dozen nuclear reactors
Thursday, according to data on the website of grid operator RTE.

The CGT union, which has spearheaded strikes at refineries and EDF, is now calling for a strike at the national railway company SNCF from 7 p.m. on May 31, and for an “unlimited strike” from June 2 at RATP, which manages the metro system and buses in the Paris area. The UNSA-INCA union of air traffic controllers called for a strike May 3-5.

Speaking from the Group of Seven summit in Japan, Hollande also directly targeted the CGT union, which is leading opposition through its fuel blockade. He admonished the strikers for denting the ability of their fellow citizens to move around the country and endangering France’s economic recovery.

“I’m going to stick with this because I think it’s a good reform,” Hollande said. “This is not the moment to endanger the French recovery.”

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