French government orders workers to ensure fuel supply

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that the situation at gas stations across the country will soon return to “normal” as the government began to requisition some workers at ExxonMobil’s Esso gas stations amid an ongoing strike that is making life difficult for French drivers.

“The question everyone is asking is: when will we get back to normal? It will be next week,” Macron told France 2 television on Wednesday evening.

The situation was caused by “social conflicts in two companies, Exxon and Total, which made large profits” thanks to the high prices of oil and gas in the midst of the world energy crisis which was aggravated by the war of the Russia in Ukraine, he said.

Macron called for the “responsibility” of business and union leaders.

“I say it very clearly: if the social dialogue does not work in the next few hours, we will make (more) requisitions”, he warned.

French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne has asked the prefects to launch the procedure for requisitioning Esso service stations two days after the conclusion of an agreement between two unions and the management of the company on a salary increase. Yet other far-left unions rejected the deal and went on strike.

The government plans to take a similar decision soon regarding Total’s facilities, depending on the outcome of wage negotiations that began on Wednesday.

Drivers were forced to wait in long queues to refuel their cars, and many gas stations temporarily closed while awaiting deliveries.

French government spokesman Olivier Veran said the consequences of the strike had become “unbearable for too many French people”.

“Some people can’t go to work, some can’t take their kids to school, some can’t go shopping, or some don’t even have access to (hospital) treatment,” Veran said.

The requisitions allow the authorities to order certain workers in the depots affected by the strikes to return to work.

Borne said on Tuesday that around 30% of French petrol stations were experiencing temporary shortages, with the Paris region and northern France being the most affected.

At a gas station that remained open Wednesday in Arcueil, in the southern suburbs of Paris, dozens of drivers were queuing for fuel.

“It will be the same problem again in two days, so it’s hard,” Jean Benamou, a 37-year-old delivery man, told The Associated Press. “We try to work smart, not drive if it’s not necessary.”

Benjamin Chaussoy, a 28-year-old CCTV installer, said if he can’t get diesel fuel he won’t be able to work.

“If there are no more, well I hope and I will try to go home,” he added. “And after that, I don’t know. I do not know what to do.

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Barbara Surk in Nice, France contributed.

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