Strikes bring shortages in hundreds of French petrol stations

PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of petrol stations faced shortages in France on Saturday as protests over a labor law reform led to a fall in refinery output and blockades that hampered fuel supply and prompted consumer panic.

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France has been hit by a wave of strikes over the past week after President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government opted to force the unpopular labor market reforms through the lower house of parliament without a vote.

Oil workers at Total voted on Friday to shut down output at three refineries, in Donges, Feyzin and Normandy and by Tuesday all three would be totally halted, CGT delegate Thierry Defresne, told Reuters.

The process had already started with French oil industry group UFIP saying Total had shut units at all three refineries.

Deliveries from Total’s Grandpuits refinery were blocked by protesters, prompting output to run at reduced flow. The fifth one in La Mede was operating normally, it said, something Defresne denied saying no oil products were coming out it.

In addition, three of Total’s nine oil depots were blocked, UFIP said.

The news of fuel shortages and blockades sent drivers rushing to petrol stations to fill their tanks as a precaution.

UFIP said 317 out of Total’s 2,200 petrol stations in France had run out of all or some fuels on Saturday. Total runs nearly one petrol station out of five in the country.

Shell and Eni petrol stations were not facing any disruption, UFIP said.

Data for supermarkets, which sold more than 60 percent of the fuel in France last year, was not immediately available.

Several departments in the northwest imposed restrictions on limiting the volume of fuel per vehicle or banning jerry cans.

But UFIP, which represents oil makers, estimated nearly 90 percent of the country’s petrol station were supplied normally.

“We are not in shortage at country level even if, locally, especially in the Great West, some stations may be out of stock. Products are available and we are doing our best efforts to supply networks,” UFIP President Francis Duseux said in a statement.

A prolonged strike at refineries in France in 2010 led to a glut of crude in Europe because it could not be delivered to refineries, and thousands of petrol stations ran out of fuel.

Defresne said the situation could be avoided if the government withdrew its labor reform bill.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Bate Felix; Editing by Ralph Boulton