Forwarders warn of delays as French strikes bring chaos and congestion to transport

Excerpt from: The Load Star UK | By: Alex Lennane | May 26, 2016

Forwarders are warning of chaos throughout France as strikes and fuel shortages continue – with little sign of reprieve.

Unions opposed to labour reform plans have called for nationwide walk-outs today at a wide range of industries including ports and fuel depots – affecting all transport modes.

“France has a large stock of fuel but there is a problem delivering it to gas stations and transport companies,” explained Yves Fargues, chairman of Transport and Logistic France (TLF). “We have seen some roadblocks too. Nobody in haulage is on strike, but demonstrators are blocking roads, ports and oil depots.

“We are doing what we can to keep or restore normal service to our customers.”

Flag_of_France.svgLocal media reports that six out of eight oil refineries in France have stopped operating or reduced output, and up to 50% of petrol stations are empty or nearly empty, according to one forwarder.

Limits of between 40 and 150 litres of fuel for trucks have been implemented in some regions.

Lorry driver Tony Henderson told the UK’s FTA: “If you can’t get fuel, you can’t move. And if you have a full tank then you’re a sitting target overnight for thieves. It’s a Catch-22 situation.”

Mr Fargues added that the government has relaxed working rules temporarily, so hauliers will be working longer hours and at the weekend. “It will help us to restore the normal flow and distribution of gas and goods. And law enforcement will help us with the blockades.”

There is little sign of more fuel getting into the country. Some 29 oil, LNG and chemical ships are waiting to dock at Marseille’s Fos terminal, where the CGT union has organised a strike today and for June 14 – the second nationwide day of strikes.

Containerships are also thought to be affected as port workers and dockers are expected to strike today and tomorrow. Oil depot workers at Fos have been on strike since Monday.

Brittany Ferries has delayed all sailings to Cherbourg and St Malo, and cancelled three sailings to Le Havre today and tomorrow. Thousands of dockworkers at Le Havre have reportedly gathered in the town and set off smoke bombs.

It’s exactly a year since strikes in Calais, combined with refugees trying to get to the UK, caused chaos for Channel traffic, creating big problems for the logistics industry, which in some cases was forced to charter aircraft. According to the FTA, last summer’s problems cost the industry an estimated £21m.

FTA deputy chief executive James Hookham said: “The damage to our members was far-reaching and this can’t be allowed to happen again. The port of Calais handles £89bn worth of UK trade every year – it’s a vital trade route that must be protected.”

Rail services on SNCF are also disrupted, with strikes called for every Wednesday and Thursday – and then daily from June 1. Media has reported that about 25% of services have been disrupted.

The CAA has requested that 15% of flights are cancelled at Orly airport, today and on June 14, while unions have called on up to 12,000 aviation workers to strike at airports across the country between June 2 and June 5.

Not to be outdone, Air France’s main pilots’ union, SNPL, is consulting its members on whether they want to hold a six-plus day strike. The carrier’s outgoing CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, warned that action would be “sabotage”, and the “worst blow” to recovery.

Not every part of the industry suffered during last year’s Channel troubles. Significant numbers of air charters were arranged. One manager at a European logistics company, which did profit, told The Loadstar: “Let’s hope those French stay on strike!”