French workers reject Dunkirk refinery plan

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Mar. 9 -- Another strike threatens France’s refining industry as workers at the 137,000-b/d Flanders Refinery at Dunkirk rejected a plan Total SA presented to a labor committee not to resume refining operations and to convert the site to other uses able to employ 370 with no layoffs.

The site would become a refining operations support center employing 180 workers, a refining training center employing 25 workers, and a logistics depot and tank farm employing 15 people.

Earlier, Total had announced that it signed an agreement with Electricite de France (EDF) to take a 10% stake in the 10-13 billion cu m/year LNG regasification terminal that EDF proposes to build on the Dunkirk port. When on stream in 2014, the plant would be able to employ 50 of the former refinery workers. EDF is to decide this summer whether to proceed with project.

Older workers would be given the opportunity to take early retirement, Total said.

The progressive dismantling of the refinery units should last until 2013. Total and its partners would also study whether to maintain the ethyl tertiary butyl ether production unit, which would provide 30 further jobs.

The majority labor union at Total, CGT, called the plan “a real provocation” and “unacceptable.” A CGT official said the strike that had shut down all Total refineries in France in the last week in February had not been “halted” but “suspended” to await action by Total on a list of promises (OGJ Online, Feb. 25, 2009).

Two of them are, indeed, being kept. Total will neither shut down nor sell its five remaining refineries in France over the next 5 years. And the government will hold a forum on the future of refining in France. Energy and Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said last week that a roundtable would take place Apr. 15.

The CGT and other trade unions were to decide Mar. 10 whether to resume the strike.

Despite workers from Dunkirk holding violent demonstrations Mar. 8 before Total headquarters at Paris La Defense, Jean-Jacques Guilbaud, Total’s secretary general, remained “optimistic” Mar. 9 about bringing the workers around to the alternative project that would guarantee their employment.

Meanwhile, Michel Benezat, refining and marketing vice-president, noted that the group would announce on Mar. 10 measures for the 400 subcontractors who would suffer the impact of the Dunkirk shut down.

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