Strikes Begin to Affect Ocean Freight Services in France

Image courtesy CGT

Published Dec 20, 2019 7:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The weeks-long strikes over French President Emmanuel Macron's new pension reform plan have disrupted commerce across France, and labor actions at seaports are now forcing alterations to at least some container services. 

In a statement issued Friday, number-two ocean carrier MSC said that "industrial action by labor unions is impacting maritime ports and overland transportation networks around the country," and it is now implementing contingency plans to reroute France-bound cargo to other nearby ports as needed. "MSC regrets any inconvenience to customers from the disruption and will strive to resume normal services as soon as practically possible," the carrier said. 

The port disruptions include tug operator and docker strikes at Le Havre and Marseille, two of France's largest cargo ports, according to The New York Times. 

On Wednesday, French trade union CGT claimed that about 1,800,000 demonstrators from all segments of the economy walked out in protest nationwide. The government's estimate was lower, at 600,000, but still enough to indicate substantial disruption. 

The CGT's unionized workforce includes refinery workers, and the local union hall for the Grandpuits refinery outside of Paris is set to decide Monday whether to stage a walkout, one CGT official told Reuters. Even if the workers opt to stay on the job, the refinery is already running at a low rate because its tanks are near-full, a consequence of a strikers' blockade. Other CGT-unionized refineries will likely follow suit if Grandpuits closes, as well as the CIM crude oil terminal at Le Havre, which handles a substantial fraction of France's oil imports. 

Refinery strikes roiled France in 2010 as workers protested government plans to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62. That measure eventually passed, and France still has a lower retirement age than most European nations. 

The most controversial element of Macron's new proposal would raise the minimum age at which a public-sector worker would qualify for a full pension to 64. His government says that the change is needed in order to head off a budget deficit of up to $20 billion per year by 2025. 

The strikes against this new age limit have strong public support, with nearly two-thirds of respondents expressing a favorable view in an opinion poll released Tuesday.