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Hundreds of petrol stations have been closed across France

Why France Is Running Out Of Petrol And Diesel

WT24 Desk

Hundreds of petrol stations have been closed in France as a result of industrial action by oil workers. The dispute is over changes to France’s employment laws.

:: What exactly is happening?

A union called the CGT, which some describe as leftist, is organising a widespread strike which is affecting transport across much of France.

As well as a blockade of six of France’s eight oil depots, which earlier this week caused more than 1,600 service stations to be closed, the strike is impacting train and airport services.

At Paris’ Orly Airport, 15% of flights have been cancelled, and several local train and metro services have been affected in the capital.

:: How long has it been going on for?

The dispute started earlier this year, after the government announced it wanted to make changes to the Code de Travail – a 3,000-page book that sets out all of France’s employment rules.

It began with a petition against the proposals that was signed by one million people, then, in mid-March, hundreds of people began staging nightly protest rallies, many of which have spiralled into violence.

This then turned into national days of protest – the eighth of which is on Thursday.

:: What changes are being proposed?

The so-called El Khomri bill, named after France’s employment minister Mariam El Khomri, aims to liberalise France’s labour market by making it moderately easier for firms that run into difficulties to lay off workers and making it possible for some employees to work longer than the 35-hour week (before overtime) set down in current legislation.

The government hopes that freeing the market from some of its restrictions will encourage French companies to hire more people, in an attempt to overcome the nation’s 10% unemployment rate.

:: What do the protesters want?

They want French President Francois Hollande’s government to scrap the changes to the laws, but it comes at a time when some union leaders are seeing a revived confidence in their ability to bring about political change, despite the CGT losing members.

The union is fighting to change Article 2 in particular, which is the part of the bill that sets out how working hours can be agreed at a company level, instead of at sectoral level, as has been the case until the new bill comes into force.

:: What does the government want?

The Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has long been regarded as a centrist despite being part of a socialist government, is determined not to back down.

He pushed through the new bill on 10 May without having a vote in parliament by employing a rarely-used clause in France’s constitution, which allows reform by decree.

Mr Valls has maintained his opposition to watering down Article 2, despite some of Mr Hollande’s other ministers saying they are prepared to compromise.

:: What is the fight between Francois Hollande and Manuel Valls about?

Mr Valls was brought in by Mr Hollande to replace his previous left-wing PM Jean-Marc Ayrault, who led the government to heavy losses in local elections.

He hoped that a more “right wing” government would help him achieve progress he promised in tackling France’s economic woes.

Mr Valls’ tough-talking stance on the economy and immigration has won him admirers on the right but infuriated those on the left.

It is many of those left-wingers who put Mr Hollande in power, by ensuring he was nominated for president.

:: What does it mean for Mr Hollande’s future?

Mr Hollande once said his presidency should be judged on whether he “turned the unemployment curve around”.

He has so far failed to do so and, with the changes to labour laws under threat, looks unlikely to do it before next year’s presidential elections.

But, with his battle over the changes to the Code de Travail just the latest in a series of difficulties, his popularity has plummeted to as low as 13%.

The fact that his government earlier this month only narrowly won a vote of no confidence in parliament, which several of his own socialist MPs backed, has not helped his cause.

:: Who is going to win?

According to the latest survey in French newspaper Le Point, 62% of French people back the strikers, but this is down from three-quarters who opposed the laws earlier this month.

Mr Valls says that with rationing at the pumps and a determined stance from the government, it can guarantee fuel supplies for three months.

But if the situation gets more aggressive, it will only take a few more MPs to vote against the government before a new no-confidence vote could wreck Mr Hollande’s chances of re-election for good.

Source: Sky News

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