PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron promised the situation in the country's gas stations will soon be back to “normal” as the government started requisitioning 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 return to normal? That will be within the next week,” Macron told France 2 television on Wednesday evening.
The situation has been prompted by "social conflicts in two companies, Exxon and Total, which made big profits" from high oil and gas prices amid the global energy crisis that was aggravated by Russia's war in Ukraine, he said.
Macron called on the “responsibility” of both the companies’ leadership and workers’ unions.
“I’m saying it very clearly: if the social dialogue does not work in the coming hours, we will make (more) requisitions,” he warned.
French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne asked on prefects to launch the requisition procedure for Esso's gas stations two days after a deal was reached between two unions and the company's leadership over a pay rise. Yet some other hard-left unions have rejected the deal and continued the strike.
The government is considering making a similar decision soon regarding Total facilities, depending on the outcome of salary negotiations that began Wednesday.
Drivers have been forced to wait in long lines to fill up their cars and many gas stations have temporarily closed while awaiting deliveries.
French government spokesman Olivier Veran said the consequences of the strike have become “unbearable for too many French people.”
“Some people cannot go to work, others can't take their children to school, go shopping, or some are even unable to access (hospital) treatment,” Veran said.
Requisitions allow authorities to order some workers at the depots hit by strikes to return to work.
Borne said Tuesday that about 30% of France’s gas stations are experiencing temporary shortages, with the Paris area and northern France being the most affected.
At one gas station that remained open Wednesday in Arcueil, in the southern suburbs of Paris, dozens of drivers waited in a long line to seek fuel.
“It will be the same problem again in two days, so it’s hard,” Jean Benamou, a 37-year-old delivery worker, 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 cannot get diesel fuel, he won’t be able to work.
“If there’s none left, well I’ll hope and try to get back home,” he added. “And after that, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.”
Barbara Surk in Nice, France contributed.