FOLKSTONE, UK: Eurotunnel, operator of the Channel Tunnel, wants €9.7 million compensation from the British or French governments due to the blockading of Calais by former employees of MyFerryLink and by migrant workers using trucks or the rail service in attempts to reach the UK.
Port delays on both sides of the Channel are costing the UK logistics industry £750,000 a day according to the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
FTA deputy chief executive James Hookham said: "It is simply not acceptable that industrial action in France can cause such chaos which is impacting on the British economy. Calais has to be made a strike free-zone so that cross-Channel traffic can start moving again."
The on-going chaos follows a ruling earlier this year by Britain's Competition and Market Authority (CMA) that MyFerryLink owner Eurotunnel should not be allowed to run a Dover-Calais ferry service and operate the Channel Tunnel.
By the time the ruling was overturned on appeal, Eurotunnel had agreed to hand over two ships to ferry operator DFDS who then offered to employ over 200 former MyFerryLink employees. They rejected the plan.
Eurotunnel became involved in running the ferry service in 2012 following the collapse of French operator SeaFrance. The company acquired its three ships and the former SeaFrance employees set up a workers' cooperative called SCOP SeaFrance.
According to Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, many of the staff invested their redundancy money in the new operation and formed a union headed by one of their number – a local Calais man named Eric Vercoutre.
The 600-strong union, made up of SCOP members, turned militant under Vercoutre's leadership following Eurotunnel's decision to sell the ships to DFDS. They now occupy the vessels in Calais and have been responsible for setting fires at the entrance of the Channel Tunnel.
On July 22, DFDS released a statement saying: "Following a meeting at the Ministry of Transport in Paris on July 20, with the participation of SCOP SeaFrance, Groupe Eurotunnel and DFDS Seaways, it has been announced that the blockade in Calais will be lifted and the port of Calais will re-open fully from 12 noon CET on Tuesday 21 July."
Two days later "migrant activity" on one of Eurotunnel's truck trains caused more delays at both ends of the route and DFDS, along with rival P&O Ferries, announced their operations were similarly affected.
With hundreds of trucks again parked on the highway leading to Britain's port of Dover because of the delays, the UK Rail Freight Group (RFG) said the impact on cross-channel rail freight services by migrants had reached "critical levels". It urged the UK and French governments "to implement solutions and rigorous security across the Calais area to prevent migrants accessing the rail infrastructure and to allow unimpeded cross-channel transits to recommence".
"UK business is now being directly impacted by these events. Without immediate support and progress, serious and long-lasting damage will be caused both to the customers and operators of international rail freight," it added.
The French government reportedly has responded by announcing plans to provide 150 jobs via a Eurotunnel ferry contract for the militant union members - in addition to the job offers from DFDS. Vercoutre said his "legal experts" would take a look at the French deal.
Commenting on the blockade, earlier this month the port of Dover's CEO Tim Waggott said the value of trade handled by the cross-Channel port is £100 billion a year: "That is just less than the combined online retail sales of the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, Italy, Poland and Spain. In just four days of concerted disruption in Calais, such action has already cost the UK economy an estimated one billion pounds."