Representatives of Irish hauliers will meet Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe next week to seek his help in demanding the French government compensate them for disruption caused by the French ferry workers strike in Calais.
Neil McDonnell, general manager of the Freight Transport Association of Ireland, will lead a delegation on Tuesday to meet the minister and press their case for compensation over delays connected to the migrant crisis at the French port.
The association said Irish hauliers had lost hundreds of thousands of euro after experiencing huge delays in the UK and France over the summer as a result of strikes by My Ferry Link workers.
It wants the French government to help cover losses caused by the introduction of traffic control measures in southern England as a result of the strike.
“Operation Stack” — where freight traffic was queued on sections of the M20 in Kent while cross-Channel services were disrupted — ran from June 23 to August 2. It affected thousands of hauliers, including many Irish operators, crossing the UK to access Europe.
During the height of the strike, a huge fire set alight by the striking ferry workers brought major disruption to Calais, causing gridlock on routes towards the port as dozens of migrants made attempts to reach the UK.
Striking workers at My Ferry Link burned tyres across a key motorway leading to the port as part of a long-running dispute over 600 job losses.
Hundreds of migrants took advantage of the strike to target British-bound lorries stuck at the entrances to the port and the Eurotunnel.
On one particular day in July there were 55km of trucks stuck in Operation Stack, each one losing €75 an hour, according to the association. The additional cost of a diversion via Rosslare-Cherbourg costs at least €600 per round trip.
While the situation is currently calm, Mr McDonnell fears the strike will resume after the summer holiday period in France ends this weekend. “Our concern is that this is because it is peak holiday season in France. We have strong suspicion that hostilities have been postponed until after the holidays,” said Mr McDonnell.
“The migrants are not the cause of Operation Stack in Kent and big delays in France. It has been strikes and delays on the French side that caused it.”
Drivers found to be transporting migrants face a £2,500 fine, regardless of whether they knew migrants were on board their lorry.
“When strike action is not taking place we have not had a problem. If there was a similar situation at UK ports there would be an outcry in France.”
Mr McDonnell said the activities of striking workers were far removed from lawful industrial action.
“Burning tyres and blocking roads constitute criminal activity. If the French want to tolerate that, fair enough, but we should not have to put our hands in our pockets to pay for it,” he said. “We are saying that the French either sort this problem or pay us for losses incurred. We have EU treaties guaranteeing free movement of goods and people and they are failing in Calais.”
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