2 Aug 2004

New Caledonia fuel supply at risk as strike spreads

9:18 pm on 2 August 2004

Petrol and diesel pumps are likely to run dry in New Caledonia as the country's fuel supplies are being blocked by unionists.

Wildcat strike action by the Union of Kanak and Exploited workers involve some five thousand workers country-wide.

Hundreds of workers are picketing the wharf over what they believe are imminent job losses at Manutrans, one of the stevedoring companies.

An executive member of the union, Pierre Chauvat says natural gas supplies in the capital of Noumea have already run out and petrol stations will be empty within days.

"We've just reinforced the blockade down at the wharfs where we've put rows of containers all around the ports, the wharfs and nothing can go out. And there's about five hundred or six hundred strikers standing in front of the wharves."

Much of the strike action is targeted at businesses owned by the economic affairs minister, Didier Leroux, including the maritime company Sofrana.

Mr Leroux says the union is holding the country to ransom over a commercial industrial squabble.

Is it bearable to take all the population as hostages to solve a commercial problem of a strictly private order, especially when this problem is resulting from the decision of a customer of Manutrans, Pacific Direct Line?

He says he's ready to talk to the union about the issue but he has not been approached as yet.