French fuel supply improving, but crisis not over - minister

Reuters News
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Posted: May 28, 2016 8:50 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - France's fuel supply crisis is not yet over, the transport minister warned on Saturday, while Prime Minister Manuel Valls was quoted as saying he was ready to ride out protests at ports and fuel depots by strikers opposing labor reform plans.

Valls has taken a tough stance against the hardline CGT union which has spearheaded strikes that have shut down refineries and disrupted fuel supplies in the past two weeks.

Following a meeting between the government and oil industry representatives, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said the situation at fuel depots was improving though the crisis caused by the strikes was not fully over.

"In some regions the situation is almost back to normal. In other regions we remain attentive, but we cannot say that the crisis is over," Vidalies said.

Vidalies added that action to clear the blockades at fuel depots could be continued if necessary.

In an interview with French daily newspaper Le Parisien, Valls said he was determined to pass labor reforms and he felt the protests would not further escalate.

"When a text (of reform) has been discussed, when it has prompted a compromise with unions, when it has been adopted in the National Assembly, I consider it my responsibility to see this through," Valls said in an interview published on Saturday.

Valls said he respected trade unions, including the CGT, but he found it unacceptable to blockade ports, fuel depots and refineries, especially at a time when the economy was starting to recover.

The stand-off worsened this week as the country mobilized strategic oil stocks for the first time in 6 years and employers warned the protests were starting to hurt the economy.

"I do not think that the movement will escalate, but I remain cautious," Valls told Le Parisien.

Valls said he would not withdraw the text of the reform, which could make it easier for firms to hire and fire.

The government says the reform is crucial to fight unemployment which is at above 10 percent of the workforce. The CGT says the reform dismantles protective labor regulation.

The text may be modified when it goes to the upper house of parliament for approval, Valls said. But the government would not go back on core parts of the reform such as removing obstacles for hiring for small and mid-sized companies.

(Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Richard Balmforth)