French fuel crisis: 1,600 gas stations running empty as workers strike, block supplies

French workers and protestors walk near a barricade to block the entrance of the fuel depot of the society SFDM near the oil refinery of Donges, France, May 23, 2016. © Stephane Mahe
About 1,600 petrol stations across France are running out of fuel as employees go on strike and stage a petrol blockade across the country in response to recent changes to labor laws.

French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said on Monday that 800 petrol stations were out of fuel and a further 800 were running low.

Six out of eight oil refineries are currently blocked, and five out of around 100 fuel depots are also affected.

Panic is spreading among motorists with long queues forming at petrol stations over the weekend, as drivers desperately tried to fill up their tanks.

A French CGT labour union employee at French oil giant Total throws a tyre onto a burning barricade to block the entrance of the depot of the SFDM company near the oil refinery of Donges, France, May 19, 2016. © Stephane Mahe

"No fuel available for 50km around me. I can't go to work," one motorist told The Local.

Another driver, Julie, from northern town of Lille, told Europe 1 radio: “I looked for petrol all over the weekend. I went to every petrol station, but it just wasn’t possible, there are shortages everywhere.”

She added that she needed to get to work but the distance was 30km, and there wasn’t enough fuel in her tank. “It’s a nightmare,” she said.

Other reports suggested that staff at service stations were being attacked because of the shortages.

A French CGT labour union employee stands near a barricade to block the entrance of the fuel depot of the society SFDM near the oil refinery of Donges, France, May 23, 2016. © Stephane Mahe

The country’s premier Manuel Valls pledged to “liberate” the fuel depots, after earlier statements that the situation was “fully under control,” and that there were “reserves to deal with these blockades.”

French workers and protestors stand near a burning barricade to block the entrance of the depot of the society SFDM near the oil refinery of Donges, France, May 23, 2016. © Stephane Mahe

Finance Minister Michel Sapin accused the CGT union staging the blockade of “holding the French people to ransom,” adding that the government would interfere with the strike when the protests are “no longer legitimate.”

The unionists, meanwhile, are showing no sign of planning to stop the strike.

French workers and protesters walk near a barricade to block the entrance of the fuel depot of the society SFDM near the oil refinery of Donges, France, May 23, 2016. © Stephane Mahe

"The comrades of the refineries of the region are on strike, they are blocking [the roads], they stopped working. Not one drop of oil goes out from their factory. This complex [Fos-sur Mer oil depot] is the only one with oil inside," trade unionist Maxime Picard told AP.

“Until they withdraw the labour law, the workers will keep on occupying this site,” Picard added.

Labour union employees at French oil giant Total stand near a burning barricade to block the entrance of the deposit of the society SFDM near the oil refinery of Donges, France, May 19, 2016. © Stephane Mahe

The law signed into effect earlier this month extended maximum working hours and cut holidays and breaks, as the government attempts to liberalize France's labor market.