France makes job-saving offer to end Calais port stand-off

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Published: July 24, 2015 12:05:17 AM

The French government unveiled proposals on Thursday to save hundreds of local ferry jobs and end a dispute at the northern port of Calais that has disrupted traffic through the Channel Tunnel for weeks.

The French government unveiled proposals on Thursday to save hundreds of local ferry jobs and end a dispute at the northern port of Calais that has disrupted traffic through the Channel Tunnel for weeks.

Some 500 workers at ferry service MyFerryLink have blocked the port and sometimes the tunnel itself in a protest at job cuts after their company, previously owned by Eurotunnel , was sold to Denmark’s DFDS.

The dispute has added to public order concerns in Calais, where thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East have gathered in the hope of jumping trucks to get to Britain.

The Transport Ministry proposals include a commitment by Eurotunnel to establish a ferry charter contract that will save 150 jobs. DFDS will also hire 230 MyferryLink workers and the ministry said it would seek local employment options for remaining workers within three months.

It added that the proposals were on the table until a July 27 meeting at which the parties involved would be asked to accept them in full or reject the deal. However, trade union reaction was guarded.

“The proposals are a starting base, our legal experts are going to work on them,” union official Eric Vercoutre told Reuters by telephone. He said MyFerryLink workers would wait until Monday to give a formal reply to the government.

Eurotunnel had no immediate comment on the government plan. A spokesman for Copenhagen-based DFDS confirmed it had been invited to discussions and said it would participate “with a constructive attitude”.

The protests and disruptions to Channel Tunnel traffic have created major jams on both sides of the English Channel in recent weeks, often giving an opportunity to migrants fleeing war, political turmoil and poverty to board lorries and trains heading to Britain where they hope to find work or claim asylum.

At least four people have also died in and around the tunnel since the end of June.

Local charities told Reuters that around 3,000 migrants were currently living in makeshift camps in and around Calais. Other sources say the figure could be closer to 5,000.

Eurotunnel said on Wednesday it wanted the French and British governments to reimburse it for close to 10 million euros ($11 million) it has had to spend to beef up security.

Currently DFDS operates two ferries between Dover and Calais and three ferries between Dover and Dunkirk.

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