September 17, 2019 / 11:57 AM / a month ago

EDF unions plan massive strike to stop proposed restructuring

PARIS (Reuters) - EDF (EDF.PA) unions have called a strike for Sept. 19 to protest against plans to restructure the heavily indebted state-controlled utility, piling pressure on the group to delay talks around the project by sapping power generation.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Electricite de France SA (EDF) is pictured on the facade of a building in Paris, France, August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

The restructuring, known as “Project Hercule” and requested by President Emmanuel Macron, could split EDF Group in two, according to a draft of the proposal presented to unions in June. EDF did not say whether it would involve job cuts.

Four unions covering a majority of France’s energy sector workers - the hardline FNME-CGT and FNEM-FO, and moderates FC-CFDT and CFE-CGC - have called the strike, which could prove to be the largest and most disruptive to hit the company this year.

Previous walkouts in recent months have succeeded in shutting down some power stations for the day, including hydropower plants.

This is costly for EDF, as it is forced to import any shortfall from abroad, but power supplies to households and towns in France are unlikely to suffer.

“We expect reduced power output at the nuclear, hydro, gas and even coal power plants,” Sebastien Menesplier, secretary-general of the energy and mines branch of CGT, told journalists in Paris.

He said CGT will call for another strike on Sept. 24 and will discuss this with the other unions. “We hope to stop the calendar and push back EDF management and the government on this project,” he said.

Union officials have urged staff to gather outside the energy ministry in Paris or local administration offices. They gave no concrete forecasts of the planned turnout or impact.

EDF declined to comment on the strike. A spokesman for the company said the planned restructuring would be presented to the government at the end of the year as requested.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told parliament that no decision had yet been taken on the outline of any restructuring.

“We want to give EDF the financial means to grow,” Le Maire said, adding the government would guarantee EDF remained an integrated group.

Under the terms of the draft plan, EDF would be divided into two legal entities, an “EDF Blue”, which would hold its nuclear power generation, and possibly its hydro power and transmission businesses, and an “EDF Green”, which would house its commercial and distribution activities, including grid operator Enedis.

EDF is currently 83.7% state-owned, but under the new structure, the state could fully nationalise EDF Blue, while the EDF Green component would remain listed on the stock market, possibly while bringing in more private shareholders.

“The restructuring will not resolve EDF’s issues. Workers and customers will pay the price,” said CGT union representative Philippe Page Le Merour. “This will only allow the financial world to play Monopoly with the company.”

“There is urgency to give EDF the means to invest and provide electricity to all at an affordable prices,” Le Merour said, adding that the proposed plan would instead weaken the company and increase power prices.

“We hope to stop the project. For us we are looking beyond EDF, we are also calling workers in the gas sector also who are threatened by this deregulation that the government is pushing in various sectors,” Menesplier said.

Reporting by Paris Newsroom; Writing by Sarah White and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Jan Harvey and David Evans

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