‘British protectionism caused French strikes’

The wildcat strikes by French ferry workers in Calais that caused travel chaos on both sides of the English Channel last month were caused by "British protectionism", the chief of Eurotunnel claimed this week.

'British protectionism caused French strikes'
A striking French ferry worker looks on during protests last month. Was it provoked by British protectionism? Photo: AFP

The head of Eurotunnel on Thursday blamed “British protectionism” for triggering a wave of strikes by French ferry workers that disrupted freight and passenger travel on both sides of the Channel.

The company, which manages the Channel Tunnel and its vehicle shuttle services, also owns three ships that operate under the brand name MyFerryLink, which it bought from bankrupt French carrier SeaFrance in 2012.

But that transaction has been fraught with legal complications and early this year, a British tribunal halted MyFerryLink services from the southern English port of Dover to France's Calais on grounds of unfair competition.

An appeals court later overturned the ban, but Eurotunnel nevertheless decided to sell two ferries to Danish operator DFDS, a move expected to result in hundreds of job losses that triggered last month's hugely disruptive strikes.

“The current situation in Calais, which is terrible, is not due to a Eurotunnel decision,” Jacques Gounon told a parliamentary commission in Paris.

He said it was a result of the British competition commission “continuously defending” British ferry giant P&O and being allowed to “block any development… under a French flag.”

“It's British protectionism that is forcing us to stop this activity.”    

He defended Eurotunnel's decision to sell the ferries to DFDS, which he described as a “ferocious competitor” on the Calais to Dover route that wants to challenge British ferry giant P&O.

“It was unreasonable in my opinion to further reinforce P&O which is the maritime leader… DFDS was an operator that needed ships and employees,” Gounon said.

SEE ALSO: British travellers left to curse French strikers

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French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.