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France Tells TotalEnergies to Hike Wages as Fuel Strikes Spread

DUNKIRK, France, Oct 13 (Reuters) - France told TotalEnergies to raise wages on Thursday as the oil firm's two-week standoff with striking workers, which has sapped the country's petrol supplies, dragged on.

Oil depot and refinery strikes have reduced France's petrol output by more than 60% and left one in three petrol stations struggling for fuel. They have spread this week to other energy companies, including nuclear power group EDF.

The strikes at five of EDF's nuclear plants are delaying maintenance and fuel reloading, at a time when the French utility is already struggling to get enough reactors back online for winter amid a wider European energy crisis.

"If one knows the profits which they made ... companies which have the capacity have a duty to raise wages and Total is one of them", Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL radio, adding it was late to start talks with the CGT trade union.

First talks between TotalEnergies and CGT leaders were held on Wednesday, but failed to end the stalemate and a union representative told Reuters on Thursday that strikes affecting four refineries and a site in Dunkirk would continue.

"Total needs to raise salaries," French Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher, said, adding that the government was ready to force refinery employees, some of whom have been striking since Sept. 27, to go back to work at a storage site.

Shortly afterwards a local union representative told Reuters that five workers on strike at TotalEnergies' storage depot in Dunkirk had been ordered back to work on Thursday. The union representative also said police were present at the site.

The French government confirmed the back-to-work order, with a source in the prime minister's office saying it would come into force at 2 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).

"The government is still counting on the fact that dialogue resumes in the coming hours between the management of the company and the workers' representatives," the source said.

TotalEnergies said in a statement the conditions to hold wage talks with all unions were not in place as the blockade continued, but also announced it would make a one-off bonus payment to its workforce worldwide.

The payment would amount to a month's salary, to be paid in December, the company said, adding that it had also told unions it was ready to consider a pay increase in 2023 of 6%, to match inflation in 2022.

Separately, a representative of the CGT branch at Esso France told Reuters the walk-outs which blocked two of the Exxon unit's own refineries would also continue.

France's energy ministry on Wednesday ordered staff back to work at Esso's Gravenchon-Port Jerome depot, where the CGT remains on strike despite a pay deal with other unions.

The CGT's sector branch said on Thursday that workers at an Engie gas storage facility also remained on strike.

Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Pascal Rossignol and Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Silvia Aloisi, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Alexander Smith

Source: Reuters

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