Paris (AFP) – The French government threatened on Tuesday to forcibly break the blockade of refineries and oil depots, which have paralyzed striking workers, as motorists continued to blockade gas stations in the hope of filling their tanks.

Nearly a third of French service stations were still running low or running out of gasoline as the strike at energy giant Total Energy and other oil majors entered its third week and wage negotiations stalled.

Government ministers and President Emmanuel Macron urged a negotiated solution to the crisis, but government spokesman Olivier Veran threatened on Tuesday with force to end the blockade that has crippled several French refineries and oil depots.

If the strikers fail to restore access “immediately,” Ferran told RTL, “We will intervene, which means we can intervene to raise them.”
The government could then “request qualified personnel” to ensure the situation “returns to normal,” he said.

He said work being carried out by the hard-left CGT union at TotalEnergies facilities was “excessive and out of line”.

Ferran said the management of the oil giant was “right to demand the lifting of the blockade before negotiations can take place.”

Once the access to refineries and depots is free, Ferran said, it will take about two weeks for the fuel situation to return to normal.

Shutdowns continued at several refineries on Tuesday, including France’s largest refinery near Le Havre in the north of the country after CGT renewed its strike call and expanded the strike to more than a dozen service stations along French motorways.

Unions at Esso-ExxonMobil’s French subsidiary on Tuesday also renewed the call to strike, rejecting management’s payment offer.

Motorists formed long queues outside petrol stations early Tuesday. In central Paris, traffic slowed as waiting cars blocked roads, cycling paths and pedestrian crossings in the hope they would be serviced before the pumps run dry.

Many have used social media to share tips. A post in the Facebook group on Monday said that the local BP service station will be replenished “at 2:30 p.m.”. Another replied: “It’s now 2:37 p.m. and we’ve run out of diesel.” Another user replied: “What a mess.”

The gasoline crisis comes at a time when high energy prices and inflation are eroding the purchasing power of French households.

The opposition leftist coalition Nupes called for a “march against the high cost of living” in Paris and elsewhere on Sunday.

At the end of the week, several prominent French people came out to support the initiative, including this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Annie Ernault.