France Braces for Train Strike as Gasoline Shortage Abates

  • Rail strike to affect 40% of high-speed train services June 1
  • Total says shortage at gas stations receded Tuesday vs. Monday

France is readying itself for reduced train service as rail workers prepare to begin striking late Tuesday even as a separate protest movement by refinery operators shows signs of fading.

National train operator SNCF said six in 10 high-speed trains should be running Wednesday as three unions call for strike at 7 p.m. local time Tuesday evening, while fewer than half of trains will be available for commuter and other services.

The spreading labor unrest has President Francois Hollande scrambling to calm the situation 10 days before the beginning of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, which France is hosting this year. While Hollande vowed again Tuesday to press ahead with his labor reform, his government is seeking a settlement with rail unions, Agence France-Presse reported.

“The proposed law won’t be withdrawn,” Hollande said in an interview with Sud Ouest newspaper. “It represents useful progress for our country that I believe we have to see it through.”

The government began speaking directly to rail unions in recent days, offering concessions that SNCF management disagreed with. SNCF Chief Executive Guillaume Pepy even threatened to resign over the concessions, according to Les Echos newspaper.

Meanwhile, France’s second largest union CGT has also called for a stoppage at the RATP, which manages Paris’ metro and buses starting Thursday, and for a 24-hour strike Thursday at France’s ports. The UNSA-INCA union of air traffic controllers has called for a strike June 3-5, and Air France’s main pilot union, the SNPL, said that 68 percent of its members voted to strike in coming weeks to protest the airline’s plans to cut pay.

Travel disruptions may be exacerbated by heavy rainfall which have created floods in several parts of the country. In the Paris region, May has been the rainiest month since 1960, according to Meteo France, which has placed the Loiret sub-region South of Paris under red alert for floods.

The situation at France’s gas stations has improved since last week, when nationwide there were long lines of motorists waiting to fill up. About 20 percent of gas stations were dry or faced partial shortages, Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres said in a statement Tuesday. That’s down from 30 percent at the end of last week, according to the government.

“There’s no shortage at a national level, even if tight situations may still exist at some places,” said Francis Duseux, Chairman of Ufip, in a statement.

Total SA, which operates 2,200 gas stations in the country, said 127 of them where out of fuel as of 2:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, and another 288 faced partial shortages. That compares with 273 and 380, respectively, Monday. Four of its refineries remained halted, while the La Mede plant is running at 80 percent of its capacity and has resumed fuel shipments by pipeline, Total said.

Four of the country’s eight refineries are halted, two are working at reduced levels, and two are working normally, according to Ufip. The business federation said hundreds of extra fuel trucks used by fuel retailers will help reduce the shortage at gas stations, and called for a return to a normal situation “as soon as possible” at refineries at oil ports that are still affected by strikes.

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s refinery in Gravenchon has received crude oil over the weekend and continues to work normally and to send fuel to gas stations, spokeswoman Catherine Brun said Tuesday. It has also sent jet fuel to Paris airports, she said. The company’s refinery in Fos-sur-Mer also continues to work normally, and has sent fuel over the past days except during one work shift, she said.

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