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French pension strikes disrupt power generation, fuel deliveries, refining

Logo of TotalEnergies at an electric vehicle fuelling station near Paris

By Forrest Crellin and Benjamin Mallet

PARIS (Reuters) -Workers striking in protest at proposed changes in the French pension system disrupted fuel deliveries and refining operations at several sites operated by TotalEnergies and Esso on Tuesday while power supply was also reduced.

A total of 9.9 gigawatts (GW) of electricity production from nuclear, thermal and hydropower stations was removed from the grid due to the strikes, a spokesperson for operator EDF said.

The supply reduction equals about 18% of total production, requiring France to lean on net imports for most of the day, data from grid operator RTE showed.

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At midday, EDF saw a turnout of 41.5% of the workforce join the strike, lower than the 45% turnout recorded on Jan. 19 but higher than the 40% of Jan. 31, the company spokesperson said.

At Engie, turnout totalled 39.4% of their electricity and gas industries (IEG) workforce, compared to 40% on Jan. 19, while their liquefied natural gas terminals operated by subsidiary Elengy have been shut since Monday, a spokesperson said.

The IEG status allows the workers to retire before the legal pension, among other benefits.

"Some sites are experiencing operational disruptions with no impact on customers," the Engie spokesperson added.

On the refining side, France's hardline CGT union said that shipments were affected as well as refinery operations at both TotalEnergies and Esso sites, and that they were "producing less fuel".

However, a spokesperson for Esso, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, said that while deliveries had indeed been blocked at the Fos site since Monday evening for an expected 48 hour period, there was no impact on production. Deliveries from the Port Jerome site have also been affected since early morning, they added.

"Esso is doing everything to supply its customers and reduce the consequences of this national movement against the pension reform," the spokesperson said.

Total Energies' Gonfreville, Donges, Feyzin, La Mede and Carling sites were hit by the strike, a CGT representative said.

The company said there is no lack of fuel at service stations and stocks are at a high level, adding that teams had been mobilised to meet demand.

The TotalEnergies spokesperson said that out of 296 operators on its sites, 64% were on strike on Tuesday morning.

Eric Sellini, a CGT union representative at TotalEnergies told Reuters that the strike currently completely blocking the Gonfreville refinery in Normandy was expected to run until Thursday and the one at the Donges refinery in western France until Friday.

"The objective is to renew the strike everywhere," CGT representative Benjamin Tange said. The spokeperson for the Esso refineries also said that strikes could be repeated.

Labour unions have said they will bring France to a standstill on Tuesday, as they step up their fight against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to make the French work two years more, to 64, before they can retire with a pension.

(Additional reporting by America Hernandez; Editing by Louise Heavens, Kirsten Donovan)