Striking French refinery workers Paris: Striking French oil refinery employees voted Wednesday to maintain blockades now in their third week, despite a government order for some of them to return to work in a bid to get fuel supplies flowing. The industrial action to demand pay hikes has paralysed six out of the seven fuel refineries in France, leading to shortages of petrol and diesel exacerbated by panic-buying from drivers. Having previously threatened to use emergency powers enabling them to order essential workers back to the job, the government announced Wednesday that it would put them into use as the strikes entered their third week. Personnel at a fuel depot at the Gravenchon-Port-Jerome refinery in northwest France, owned by US giant Esso-ExxonMobil, will be the first to be requisitioned, an official at the energy ministry told. “Faced with the continuation of the strike by some of the personnel at Port-Jerome in Normandy, the government is launching the requisitioning of essential workers at the depot,” the official said. Workers who refuse the summons will risk fines or jail time. The government also said it would hold an emergency meeting on the crisis toward midday, as long queues of motorists desperately seeking fuel again blocked streets in Paris and other major cities. As of Tuesday evening, 31 percent of stations across the country lacked at least one grade of fuel, a figure that stood at 44 percent in the greater Paris region. Esther Berrebi, a home health aide in the capital, was hoping to find petrol at the third station she had tried since 7:00 am. “I’m very angry, and very worried,” she told. “I understand they want higher salaries but I don’t understand how they can halt an entire country.” Growing frustration The hard-left CGT union that is leading the stoppages had said Tuesday that any requisitioning would be “not necessary and illegal”, raising the spectre of legal challenges. It is seeking a 10-percent pay rise for staff at TotalEnergies, retroactive for all of 2022, and says management had refused to engage in talks. “It would have been easier to requisition our CEO and bring him to the negotiating table,” said Germinal Lancelin, the CGT leader for ExxonMobil at the Gravenchon-Port-Jerome refinery. On Wednesday, TotalEnergies said it would meet with all union representatives, having previously insisted it would meet only those who accepted to end the blockades. Until now, the government had been reluctant to inflame the conflict, but in recent days officials have had to acknowledge the growing frustration and economic damage caused by drivers spending hours to fill up. “Petrol is too important for us. It’s been a nightmare for a week,” Santiago, a delivery driver, told in Paris. And even if key personnel are ordered back to get oil refineries working again, “it will take at least two weeks” to restore fuel supplies already under strain, said Gil Villard, a CGT representative for Esso at the refinery in Fos-sur-Mer, outside Marseille. The crisis comes at a time of high energy prices and inflation, while TotalEnergies’ bumper profits have also caused anger, leading to calls for the group to face a windfall tax. The stand-off could add impetus to a march planned by left-wing political parties on Sunday against the policies of President Emmanuel Macron and the high cost of living. “I hope this is the spark that begins a general strike,” leading Greens party parliamentarian, Sandrine Rousseau, told Franceinfo radio Wednesday. The standoff also comes as Macron is preparing to push through a contentious pension overhaul by the end of the winter, despite warnings from some allies about the risk of widespread resistance. Labour unions and left-wing political parties have vowed to try to block the reform, which would see the pension age raised to 64 or 65 for most people, from 62 currently.