The boss of Eurostar has blamed Britain for recent strikes which saw French workers blockade road and rail lines by setting tyres on fire, bringing the cross-Channel rail service to a halt. He said that “British protectionism” was behind the loss of 600 jobs which led to the industrial action.
The workers are employees of MyFerryLink, a Eurotunnel-run ferry service running three ships between Calais and Dover. Eurotunnel, which manages the Channel Tunnel and its car shuttles services, bought the three ships from bankrupt French carrier SeaFrance in 2012.
But the company is now selling two of those ferries to Danish operator DFDS, which is expected to cull around 600 French jobs when it takes on the ships.
“The current situation in Calais, which is terrible, is not due to a Eurotunnel decision,” Eurotunnel boss Jacques Gounon told a parliamentary commission in Paris, The Local has reported.
He said that the decision to sell had been taken following a ruling by a British tribunal which halted MyFerryLink operations from Calais on the grounds of unfair competition.
Although the tribunal’s decision has since been overturned, the sale will still go ahead. M Gounon accused Britain’s competition commission of “continuously defending” British ferry giant P&O, and of being allowed to “block any development… under a French flag.”
He added: “It’s British protectionism that is forcing us to stop this activity.”
M Gounon defended the decision by Eurotunnel to press ahead with the sale, arguing that DFDS “needed ships and employees” to challenge P&O’s supremacy on the route.
And he described DFDS as a “ferocious competitor”, adding “It was unreasonable in my opinion to further reinforce P&O which is the maritime leader.”
The strikes by MyFerryLine staff last month drew fierce criticism for the disruption and violence undertaken by the strikers, who set fire to tyres on roads and rails leading into Calais. The fires caused huge traffic jams, and all Eurotunnel and Eurostar services to be cancelled.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued warnings to drivers caught up in the delays to lock the doors of their vehicles to deter potentially violent migrants away. Similarly, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner warned that the chaos provided the perfect cover for jihadists to sneak back into the country undetected.
The strikers actions prompted one anonymous worker to tell The Local “I’ve had about all I can take of this backward country and its race to the bottom. Crap like this belongs in the 70’s. My wife and applied for a transfer to Canada today.”
But trade unionists vowed to keep up their campaign of chaos. “We want to make the French, British and Belgian governments understand that if a solution isn’t found to save our 600 jobs, there will be a lot of disruption this summer,” trade unionist Eric Vercoutre of the MyFerryLink works council, told reporters.
“When the mobilization ramps up, we’ll block everything,” he warned.
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