26/05/2016 6:25 AM AEST

Dramatic Photos Capture The Chaos In France As Strikes Escalate

French protesters accuse the government of undemocratically passing controversial labor reforms.

A protester raises his fist as riot police prepare to disperse refinery workers who are blockading the oil depot of Douchy-les-Mines, France, to protest the government's proposed labor reforms on Wednesday.

Images of striking workers clashing with police in northern France on Wednesday dramatically capture how much the conflict over controversial labor reforms in the country has escalated.

French police deployed water cannons to disperse protesters blockading a fuel depot in Douchy-les-Mines at dawn on Wednesday, Le Huffington Post reported. The confrontation followed similar clashes between strikers and security forces at an oil refinery and petrol depot in southern France a day earlier.

Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters
French gendarmes observe striking workers near the oil refinery at Fos-sur-Mer, France, on May 24, 2016.

The protests began earlier this month, when France’s Socialist government forced through a labor reform bill that makes it easier for companies to hire and fire employees and relaxes regulations protecting workers’ pay and working hours. 

Opponents of the reforms accused the government of using anti-democratic means to push them through without a parliamentary vote. Activists held demonstrations and one of France’s largest labor unions, the CGT, called for nationwide strikes.

Riot police watch as a wall of flame separates them from refinery workers blockading the oil depot of Douchy-les-Mines, France, on May 25, 2016.

The work stoppages have hit France’s oil infrastructure particularly hard. Protests and blockades have disrupted all eight of the country’s fuel refineries, and at least one-fifth of gas stations around the country have totally or nearly run out of fuel.

On Wednesday, the French government released its strategic oil reserves for the first time in six years to help alleviate the fuel shortages, assuring the country that these reserves could last for more than three months. 

Meanwhile, unions voted Wednesday to start strikes at French nuclear power stations, and public transport workers have joined the strikes, causing travel chaos. Unions have also called for country-wide walk-outs and protests to take place on Thursday.

French citizens debated the strikes on social media, some using the hashtag #JeSoutiensLaGreve (I support the strike).

The French government has refused to accept labor groups' demands to roll back the reforms, saying they are necessary to reduce a troubling unemployment rate that hovers around 10 percent. Officials also say the reforms were amended based on feedback from several unions that now back the bill.

French President Francois Hollande's dismal approval ratings sunk to record lows last month.

See more photos from the French strikes below.