French trade unions have called for protests by electricity and gas workers, to be centred on nationwide demonstrations on 3 October, after talks with government ministers failed to allay their fears of job losses stemming from the partial privatisations of the state monopoly companies Electricité de France and Gaz de France.

The union leaders’ worries were fuelled by finance minister Francis Mer’s statement during the talks that the sale of stakes in the two companies was inevitable, a non-negotiable political decision necessary for their international growth.

EDF is one of the country’s biggest employers, with a workforce of 115 000, while GDF has about 36 500 employees.

The row came only a fortnight after a climb-down by the government over electricity prices. Under pressure from the unions it had agreed to reject a request from EDF for a hike in prices charged to householders. EDF wanted the 5 per cent rise, which would have raised about one billion euros, to help it meet its obligation to buy from alternative sources such as renewables.

EDF chief Francois Roussely had been quoted towards the end of July as saying that it would take a year to implement the reforms needed before stakes in EDF could be put on the market.

Meanwhile Duke Energy has moved into the French market with its acquisition on 1 August of Compagnie Thermique du Rouvray of Sechilienne-Sidec. CTR is the owner of a 103 MW CHP plant near Rouen in northwest France. All its output is sold under long term contracts to paper and board manufacturer OTOR Papeterie de Rouen, which buys the steam, and EDF, which buys the power.