[PARIS] French oil major Total said on Saturday management had ordered the halting of the La Mede refinery in southeast France after a union launched a strike against plans to stop crude processing at the plant.
Total intends to halt crude oil processing at its 153,000 barrels-per-day La Mede site near Marseille by the end of 2016 as demand for petroleum products declines in Europe.
The hardline CGT union launched an unlimited strike at the plant on Thursday and has threatened to extend it to the entire oil sector in France. Around 18 employees out of 430 had joined the action, a company spokesman said. "The site management gave on Friday night the order to shut down the refinery since the CGT strike does not allow the units to be operated normally and safely," the spokesman said.
Talks were ongoing with a group of other unions representing a majority of employees, he added.
The refinery shut-down would not disrupt fuel supplies in the region this weekend nor next week and it would take several days to bring the plant to a standstill, he said.
Most units, apart from distillation and a reformer, had already been halted since an electricity outage last week, the spokesman said.
The company plans to cut 180 out of 430 jobs at the plant, as well as investing 200 million euros (US$225 million) there to create France's first biorefinery.
CGT, in a statement sent on Friday before the decision to halt the plant, said Total's proposals were unacceptable. It threatened to enlarge the strike to the entire oil sector if the company declined to discuss ways to maintain oil refining and jobs at the plant.
One of the unions still in talks with Total, the CFDT, denounced the strike. "The CGT is taking advantage of the technical situation to demand that the plan presented on April 29 be abandoned," a CFDT official told Reuters, referring to the start of negotiations between management and unions.
The CFDT and other unions had opted to discuss mitigation measures to the restructuring plan, rather than joining the strike, he said. "A majority of employees are not following this action," he said.