French power output down 10% as over a third of workforce strikes

PARIS (Reuters) - More than a third of EDF's EDF.PA workforce in France was on strike on Thursday in protest against a restructuring plan, the state-controlled utility said, reducing French power generation by more than 10%.

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EDF said about 23,700 workers in France had joined the industrial action by Thursday evening in one of the biggest strike turnouts at the company in eight years.

The strike has reduced power generation by some 6 gigawatts, affecting output in several nuclear, hydro and gas-fired power plants. The strike is due to end on Thursday evening.

Power station outages will not knock out the grid or hit households, though cuts in power output are costly for EDF, as it has to import any shortfall.

After the strike started on Wednesday night, there was a loss of power generation of over 8%, and by Thursday midday it had fallen another two percentage points, according to data from EDF and grid operator RTE.

EDF workers are protesting plans steered by the French government to restructure and potentially split the heavily indebted group, with its nuclear power generation business set to one side.

The strike was more disruptive than previous stoppages, with four unions representing a majority of France’s energy workers joining forces behind the walkout. Previously, the unions have not acted together.

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Unions leaders are expected to meet later on Thursday to decide whether further action is needed. The hard-left CGT has said it wants another strike on Sept. 24.

It is not yet clear whether job cuts would be involved under the restructuring plan, which is known as “Project Hercule” and was requested by President Emmanuel Macron.

But unions hope to pile pressure on EDF’s management and the government to delay the project, arguing that a split would only weaken the group. The company is to present a final proposal by the end of the year.

“Nobody should forget that the one primarily responsible for EDF’s situation today is undoubtedly the state (...) Dismantling EDF cannot be the answer”, the unions said in a statement.

EDF operates all 58 French nuclear reactors, which account for around 75% of the country’s electricity needs.

Reporting by Paris Newsroom; Writing by Benoit van Overstraeten; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Dan Grebler