Running Out of Gas

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Oil workers at a refinery in northern France agreed to return to work Thursday but other oil workers around the country remained on strike, leading to continuing petrol shortages across the country, Radio France Internationale reported.

The move came after the French government issued orders to oil workers nationwide to end their three-week strike, saying that petrol shortages are taking too big a toll on the economy.

Employees have been striking across the country, demanding a 10 percent wage increase in the face of high inflation. They said their employers could afford it given the large profits they’ve gained since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increased fuel prices.

The strikes have cut France’s petrol output by more than 60 percent, leaving one in every three petrol stations with little or no fuel.

The situation has prompted the government to order essential workers back to work, threatening them with hefty penalties, including six months in prison and a near-$10,000 fine if they defy such orders.

A number of prominent unions leading the strike have said they will challenge the government’s order in court, calling it a violation of the right to strike.

Meanwhile, the government has urged oil companies to raise wages and engage with strikers, fearing an escalation ahead of a nationwide march against inflation planned by President Emmanuel Macron’s left-wing opponents Sunday.

One of the oil giants, TotalEnergies, said the conditions to hold wage talks are still absent but announced it would provide a one-off bonus of about a month’s salary to all its employees worldwide in December.

The corporation added that it has informed French unions that it was willing to consider a six percent pay hike in 2023 in order to meet 2022 inflation levels.

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