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EDF workers protest over pay comments, Hinkley Point during Macron visit

PARIS (Reuters) - Workers at French utility EDF EDF.PA jeered Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron when visited a nuclear plant on Thursday, protesting over comments they saw as blaming them for financial pressures at the group.

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The CGT union also renewed calls to delay a 18 billion pound nuclear reactor project at Hinkley Point in southwest England, saying it would put the financial health of the state-controlled company at risk.

More than 100 members of the union picketed the main entrance to the site at Civaux, in mid-western France, and booed the minister as he arrived. Civaux accounts for 5 percent of France’s nuclear production.

CGT representative Sebastien Menesplier told Reuters the workers wanted Macron to apologise for his remarks on their salaries.

“He made unacceptable comments suggesting the social compromise given to staff had caused EDF’s current problems,” Menesplier said. “We want him to apologise.”

Macron told the French parliament last week that the arrangement with staff at EDF had for a long time been “at the expense of everyone and purely in the interest of employees” and that it was “no longer sustainable”.

Menesplier also called on EDF to delay Hinkley Point which critics say is too much of an additional burden for the company.

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“It will jeopardise the company,” he said. “We’re not saying don’t do it, but it must be delayed. It’s too premature.”

While EDF is profitable, its heavy investments weigh on cash flow and it has had to borrow billions of euros in recent years just to pay dividends, pushing net debt to over 37 billion euros (£29.2 billion), more than twice its market value.

EDF will also need to find billions to bail out Areva AREVA.PA by taking over its reactor unit and 50 billion euros to finance the renewal of its fleet of reactors.

The government has already lent some financial support by agreeing to accept dividends in shares instead of cash on its 85 percent holding.

EDF Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy warned last week that he would not go ahead with the UK reactor project without additional financial support from the French state.

The project was first announced in October 2013, but a final investment decision has been delayed as EDF struggled to find partners and financing. Chinese utility CGN signed up for a one-third stake in Oct. 2015, leaving EDF to fund the rest.

Macron was due to meet with unions later on Thursday. He is also scheduled to hold a meeting with Levy on Friday evening.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Writing by James Regan; Editing by Andrew Callus

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