French ministers assess fuel supply as premier vows to defend reform

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed there would be no withdrawal of controversial labour reforms in an interview published Saturday just hours before meeting representatives of the petroleum and transport industries.

The meeting was aimed at taking stock of the country's fuel supplies and ensuring continued access to fuel despite strikes and protests against the controversial labour reforms that had caused shortages at the pumps.

"The situation has certainly improved, but we have to continue our efforts this weekend in particular" Alain Vidalies, a minister in charge of transport, said following the meeting.

Petrol stations faced shortages this week caused in part by refinery worker strikes and blockades at fuel depots. But the number of stations affected declined by Friday, as police cleared protesters blocking depots and released strategic reserves.

A spokeswoman for the petroleum industry said the situation on Saturday remained more or less unchanged from Friday when four of the country's eight refineries were stopped, and two had reduced output. Two were operating normally.

Valls said in an interview in Le Parisien that while he respected the unions' constitutional right to strike, he did not accept the blockades, "which infringe on free movement, hamper employees or those who are looking for a job; in general it's low income people who suffer the most in this situation."

Valls pointed to numerous amendments that have been made to the text of the reform, which is aimed at relaxing labour regulations, and said that he was open to continued discussion.

"But when a text has been debated, when it has created compromise with the social partners, when it has been adopted by the National Assembly, I consider that my responsibility is to see it through to the end," he said.

The tough words came as labour unions pledged to intensify their efforts against the reforms, with two of the seven central unions demanding the complete withdrawal of the legislation. One of their points of ire is article 2, aimed at moving working hours negotiations from the sector to the company level.

Last update: Sat, 28/05/2016 - 14:46
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