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UPDATE 1-French truckers block fuel depots in labour reform protest
September 25, 2017 / 4:15 PM / 21 days ago

UPDATE 1-French truckers block fuel depots in labour reform protest

* Roadblock outside Total’s La Mede refinery

* Labour reform set to enter law in coming days

* Macron had setback in Senate vote on Sunday (Adds details on impact of strike, oil industry comment)

By Cyril Camu

PARIS, Sept 25 (Reuters) - French truck drivers protesting against government moves to loosen labour regulations blocked 10 fuel depots on Monday, prompting panic buying in some areas that caused hundreds of gas stations nationwide to run out of petrol.

President Emmanuel Macron, keen to show he will not be thrown off course as he seeks to re-shape France’s economy, deployed riot police before dawn at some sites to ensure protesters could not cause disruption for a prolonged period.

The drivers on strike belong to the hard-left CGT and Force Ouvriere trade unions, the second and third biggest in France respectively.

Transport Minister Elizabeth Borne said she would meet the unions on Thursday to try to resolve differences, but both replied that her offer was inadequate and that their drivers would strike for a second day on Tuesday.

“We’re always ready to talk,” Patrice Clos, head of the FO’s transport federation, told Reuters. “But as long as there is nothing concrete on offer, we’ll keep going.”

Public discontent is simmering against Macron’s drive to revamp France’s economic and social model and tame the budget deficit - a push being closely watched in European capitals.

But so far street protests organised by the CGT and the hard-left France Unbowed party have shown no signs of forcing the government into a climbdown, and attendance at their marches has been lower than in past eras of labour strife.

Earlier, protesters in southern France set up a roadblock in front of Total’s La Mede refinery, while in western France fuel depots were blocked near Bordeaux and the coastal city of La Rochelle.

Union members also held go-slow operations on highways near Paris and in northern France.

SOME PANIC BUYING

About 3 percent of France’s 11,000 gas stations had run empty on Monday, a spokeswoman for the oil industry group UFIP said. Ten oil depots - out of 200 across the country - had been blocked, she added.

“Drivers panicked and filled their tanks out of precaution.”

On average French drivers fill their car tanks once every two weeks and fuel stations can typically last two to three days before running dry, according to UFIP data.

The labour reform is due to become law in coming days after Macron formally signed five labour decrees on Friday, the first major economic reforms since he took office in May.

The new rules, negotiated at length in advance with unions, will cap payouts on dismissals that are judged unfair, while giving companies greater freedom to hire and fire employees and to agree working conditions.

“It’s not in blockading the country’s economy and preventing people from working that one best defends one’s cause,” junior economy minister Benjamin Griveaux told RTL radio.

While unions have failed to derail the reforms, the considerable political capital Macron had after his landslide election victory in May is quickly evaporating.

He suffered his first electoral setback on Sunday when his party won fewer seats than expected in elections for the French Senate. (Reporting by Claude Cannelas in Bordeaux, Jean-Francois Rosnoblet in Marseille and Leigh Thomas, Bate Felix and Cyril Camu in Paris; Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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