Time for French government to toughen up on strikers

COMMENT: All agencies must to held to account for Anne Savidge’s tragic death

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Could the all-powerful French unions sink another ferry company? In the current economic climate, are trade unions the worst thing for any nation’s economy?

It seems incredible that in 2012, for over a week, industrial action has halted the operations of a major ferry operator to the UK. One that also contributes millions to the local economy and employs local people.

Brittany Ferries’ crew walked out early last week in a dispute over proposed changes to working conditions. Surely the pampered French workers need to realise how lucky they are to have jobs?

Last year, after years and years of strike action, Seafrance (operating between Calais and Dover) fell to its knees. Even though the company was a private subsidiary of the national railway system, it haemorrhaged enough money for the government to say enough was enough.

Brittany Ferries has a proud, privately-funded heritage. Formed by farmers from Brittany in the early 1970s, it has grown to become one of Europe’s biggest ferry operators, with a quality of service second to none. Ships are modern and purpose-built.

All this is now in jeopardy. With low-cost airlines and now a low-cost competitor in LD Lines, the ferry market is tough, as P&O discovered in 2005.

At one point P&O operated five ships from Portsmouth, but ended up losing money and bailed out after 40 years’ service. With Brittany Ferries being the premium brand, surely they cannot afford to give their competitors a foothold?

We were due to sail back into Portsmouth on Saturday, but the industrial action meant we were diverted to Calais.

We were greeted by a brand new, top-class P&O ferry. We had a wonderful meal on board and 90 minutes later, we arrived in Dover.

Another surprise was that a return on this route would have cost in the region of £70 – four times cheaper than sailing from Portsmouth.

What would Brittany Ferries crew do for a living if their ferry company no longer existed?

Surely it’s time for the French government to toughen up.