French union workers vote to halt production at key oil facility
By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Bate Felix
PARIS (Reuters) - French workers voted on Monday to halt production at a key oil facility that supplies Paris and the surrounding region, joining other petroleum industry shutdowns in a nationwide strike against government pension reforms.
Industrial action against President Emmanuel Macron's reforms has also crippled train services over the past two weeks, escalating into clashes between protesters and police in the capital earlier on Monday.
Production at Total's <TOTF.PA> Grandpuits oil refinery and petrol depot southeast of Paris will stop as a result of the vote by workers from the hardline CGT union.
"The decision has been taken to halt Grandpuits but with a slight majority. The management has asked for an hour of reflection," a CGT union official said.
Grandpuits was already producing at minimum capacity before the union vote due to the strike, which is blocking deliveries from the refinery, Total said.
The vote contrasted with a reassuring message on Monday from the French energy ministry, which said fuel supplies to gas stations were normal despite calls by the CGT to shut down production at refineries.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's office said it would restart talks with unions on pension reform on Jan. 7. Separate talks will also be held with teachers' and hospital workers' unions from Jan. 13, the government said.
Unions have already scheduled more demonstrations for Jan. 9 against the reforms, which would scrap special regimes for sectors like the railways and make people work to 64 to draw a full pension.
SCUFFLES WITH POLICE
Protesters scuffled with police at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris early on Monday as the strike went into its 19th day.
Riot police tangled with around 30 protesters, who let off flares and fireworks, releasing smoke that drifted into the station concourse, French TV footage showed.
The strike, which has disrupted Christmas preparations, has also affected other main Paris stations such as the Gare du Nord, which handles Eurostar services to London and Brussels, and the Gare de l'Est.
"I understand but I am not OK with it as I think all French people are being held hostage and it is difficult for us to understand what the goal is," said Damien Dremont, a commuter at the Gare de l'Est.
The CGT, which has been at the forefront of the industrial action, has said there will be no Christmas truce.
At the CIM oil terminal in northern France, which handles about 40% of French crude oil imports, CGT members decided to stay on strike but held off shutting down operations which would have cut deliveries of crude to refineries and jet fuel to airports.
But a CGT official told Reuters that members voted on Monday to stop production at the LyondellBasell petrochemical complex in the south of France. LyondellBasell <LYB.N> could not be reached for comment.
Shutdown procedures started early on Monday at PetroIneos' Lavera oil refinery in southern France after CGT workers voted to halt operations.
Although the protests have disrupted deliveries, the UFIP oil industry lobby said only about 2% of France's 11,000 petrol stations had run dry.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Bate Felix, Antony Paone and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Ed Osmond and Giles Elgood)