Fuel: anything the government and management are ready to do in order not to respond to the main demands of the employees

The pressure has gone up a notch, but refinery and fuel depot operators are holding firm. On Wednesday, late in the afternoon, the striking employees at the four sites of TotalEnergies and two of Esso-ExxonMobil renewed their movement. The great maneuvers continued throughout the day, however, to put an end to their social struggle which had begun twenty-one days earlier.

With, on the part of the government, effective use of requisitions at the Exxon site in Notre-Dame-de-Gravenchon (Seine-Maritime). On the management side, the weapon of division between unions. All this still falls short of the workers’ main demand: to get a pay rise to match inflation and the super profits their big oil employers are reaping.

Totals lying poker

Without being productive in salary increases, the management of TotalEnergies is not stingy with meetings. Its headquarters in Paris-La Défense was the site of bilateral discussions with the group’s unions for a good part of the day. After spending the beginning of the week disparaging the strikers in the eyes of public opinion, by filing a statement that “average remuneration levels for TotalEnergie’s refining operators in France (reached) 5,000 euros gross per month, including profit sharing and participation”The time had, it seems, come for Camp one “peaceful social dialogue”.

With one advance and one only, in the form of goodwill. There is no longer any question of making the lifting of the strike a prerequisite for any discussion. Resumption of fuel deliveries to depots will be a prerequisite. But behind this effect of media management, the blockage remains in the mind of the employer, warns Thierry Defresne from the CGT. “At the moment, the indicators show us that the leadership is not inclined to come up with proposals (…) that can lift the movement. She called our demand for 10% (wage increase) too high. She is not ready to put that envelope on the table. “

The oil company, which collected 13.5 billion euros in record profits in 2021 and already 18.8 billion in the first half of this year (10.4 billion consolidated profit with the write-off of its Russian assets), which offered an increase of 52% to its CEO Patrick Pouyanné (from 3.9 million to 5.9 million) and ten days ago released 2.6 billion. in additional dividends to its shareholders, therefore, with regard to its employees, remains at an average increase of 3.5% in return for the year’s results for 2021 And a promise of collective bargaining in the coming days that only concerns 2023.

The balance of power is getting tougher

Even before the meeting with the other unions in the group at the end of the day, CGT therefore did not call “at the lifting of the strike because (…) the strikers told us that they did not want to lift their movement as long as there was no proposal on the table”.

The latter were supported by their Force Ouvrière colleagues. Although the organization is not representative at group level, it still weighs in at certain places. “The calculation from the management about our so-called average salary did not please us very much. With the use of requisitions at Exxon, the fun is over. At Total is The CGT is no longer alone in the strike. At the Feyzin refinery, we are in the majority. We are also obliged to the 10% extra salary, for hiring temporary workers and uncertain contracts and real investments”explains Hakim Bellouz, FO delegate for the Rhone site.

A few hours earlier, the Total refinery in Donges (Loire-Atlantique, 650 employees) had also joined the movement. Here again the announcement from the management about the 5,000 euros in compensation “Really pissed people off. It weighed heavily on the strike”explains Jérémy Pravis, from the CGT, who recalls that the employees had already mobilized several days since the interprofessional action on wages on September 29. “The social exchange and consideration, which were the company’s strong values, have crumbled. We must solve everything through conflict.apologizes for his part Marin Guillotin, from FO.

First requisitions at Exxon

Weakened by its lack of response (79% of those polled in an Elabe poll for BFMTV believe that Emmanuel Macron and the government are not managing the situation properly), the government has tried to regain control by flexing its muscles. Late in the morning, an interministerial crisis unit of the Ministry of the Interior worked to establish the requisition of the necessary personnel for the operation of the ExxonMobil depot in Port-Jérôme in Seine-Maritime. By the end of the afternoon, according to the unions, an operator had received his notification at the Notre-Dame-de-Gravenchon site. The director says he is ready to pull the same administrative weapon on the Total depot near Dunkirk.

“We thank Madame Borne for her refusal to mediate between union and management, it would have been easier to requisition our CEO to return to the bargaining table”said Germinal Lancelin, CGT General Secretary of ExxonMobil.

What are the uses of trade unions?

The employees on strike have no intention of giving up. “The lawyers have prepared the requests to attack the requisitions, we are in the starting blocks”assures Emmanuel Lépine, from CGT chemistry (Fnic).

Since the right to strike, which is a fundamental freedom, is threatened, the judge in chambers must decide on the postponement of the requisition at most 48 hours after receiving the appeals. To assess whether the order for staff to return to work is unlawful, the court will consider whether the decision is proportional to the urgency of the situation. “The prefect does not have the right to requisition staff to restore normal service, it must be a minimum service”, explains Savine Bernard, a lawyer specializing in employment law. In October 2010, while the employees of the Total depot in Grandpuits (Seine-et-Marne) were on strike against the pension reform, the administrative court in Melun had also suspended the requisition ordered by the prefect, considering that it ensured the return. to their duties for an excessive number of employees and that it violated the right to strike. Since refining activities are not considered essential, the requisition should only be used to supply emergency vehicles.

However, the article in the General Code of Territorial Communities, which allows prefects to requisition, tends to be interpreted by the courts in an overly broad way, explains the lawyer. The text only mentions the possibility of requisitioning employees in the private sector only to ensure the maintenance of public health, safety and tranquility. “The requisition was first intended as a means of defending the nation in case of war, then to protect against natural disasters, not to break a strike.”, explains Me Savine Bernard. However, the State Council, which also decided on the refineries’ strikes in 2010, considered that a prefect was free to requisition employees of a private company “whose activity is of particular importance for the maintenance of economic activity”.

If the judge refuses to suspend the requisition of Esso-Exxon Mobil personnel, they have the legal obligation to return to their custody. Otherwise, operators risk a fine of 10,000 euros and six months in prison. “The requisitions concern everyone at work, because the right to strike is being questioned. It is therefore necessary that all the trade unions take their responsibility to defend it at Esso.”, warned Emmanuel Lépine. In the squares or in the courtrooms, the battle for wages in the refineries therefore continues for several reasons. On Wednesday evening several rallies were held at the call of the CGT in support of the strikers, from Paris to Moulins or Vichy (Allier).

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