French Pension Reform Strikes Shut Down LNG Terminals

Elengy LNG terminal Fos Cavaou
File image courtesy Elengy

Published Mar 16, 2023 10:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

The ongoing strikes and protests against French President Emanuel Macron's planned pension alterations are beginning to disrupt parts of the country's energy sector, including much-needed LNG imports. Now that Europe has weaned its utility sector off of Russian pipeline gas, it is heavily dependent on LNG to meet demand and keep historically-high gas prices from going higher. 

On March 6, the giant French trade union CGT shut down operations at all four of the nation's LNG import terminals, and it is set to continue through March 21, according to Natural Gas Intelligence. The action is just a small - but very disruptive - part of a nationwide protest against plans to raise the French retirement age from 62 to 64. Kpler assesses that the last vessel that discharged cargo at one of the four terminals finished offloading on March 5, and at least seven cargoes have been sent elsewhere in Europe. 

Unionized workers have also gone on a modified strike at the five French refineries operated by TotalEnergies. The facilities continue to operate, but workers have restricted product from leaving for sale, according to Argus. Instead, the refineries' output has gone primarily into on-site storage tanks. 

At the petroleum port of Fos-Lavera on the Mediterranean, dockers have gone on strike through March 20, preventing crude tankers from unloading or product tankers from taking on cargoes. 

Underlying political tensions behind the strike may take time to subside. On Thursday, the French Senate passed the pension reform bill as expected, but Macron's political alliance was not expected to have the votes to get it through the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. In the middle of the assembly session Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne suspended proceedings and announced that Macron would push through the bill using a special constitutional procedure, bypassing parliamentary approval. 

After the announcement, union coordinating committee UFSE-CGT announced that the mobilization and protests will continue, and called for an intensified day of nationwide strikes on March 23. 

France's pension system operates at a deficit of about $10 billion per year, and Macron and his allies contend that a higher retirement age is essential for ensuring that the system remains solvent.