French customs strike delays Eurostar, airports ahead of Brexit

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol | Trucks queue on the Dunkirk-Calais motorway as French Customs Officers increase their controls on transported goods to protest against the lack of ressources as the Brexit date approaches, in Saint-Folquin, France March 8, 2019.

As French customs officers staged the sixth day of a work-to-rule strike this Saturday, airport officers joined customs workers in charge of Eurostar trains and of the Channel port of Calais, sparking travel chaos throughout the week.


Eurostar trains from Paris to London were running up to two hours late, trucks were stacked up on the approaches to the Channel port of Calais and long lines were reported in airports across France on Saturday.

As the Brexit deadline of March 29 approaches, French customs officers are demanding higher pay and better working conditions with actions all over France.

Saturday was the first day that customs officers at airports across France joined in the work-to-rule strike.

They carried out longer and more rigorous checks than usual, in a bid to demonstrate what might happen in case of a “no-deal” scenario, and if full border controls are put in place.

All unions representing customs officers working at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport called for strikes until April 1, warning disruptions could be particularly intense over the weekend. Paris’s Orly, Chambéry, Grenoble and Nice Airports were also reported to be affected.

At Paris’s Gare du Nord railway station, where Eurostar trains leave for London, passengers waited in long queues to board trains. “All Eurostar trains are experiencing delays of up to 2 hours from Paris Gare du Nord and Lille Europe due to industrial action by French customs until March 12,” Eurostar tweeted on Saturday. Some trains were cancelled.

“People had to stand in line for half an hour in between two body checks, and only one screening machine out of five is in use,”said FRANCE 24’s Louise Nordstrom, who was travelling from Gare du Nord. “But people are rather calm, even though many are going to miss their trains,” she added.

Eurostar also texted customers on Friday, recommending them not to travel this weekend “unless necessary”.

‘This movement is going to last’

“This movement is going to last,” Anne Azoulay-Fravel, a customs official from the CGT union, told FRANCE 24. “I cannot foresee what will happen over the next few days, but it has been a long time since I last saw so many colleagues involved,” she added.

The strike is related to Brexit "and the consequences it will have on working conditions”, said François Schallebaum, head of the Solidaires Douanes union branch.

However, Azoulay-Fravel believes that Brexit simply exacerbated a pre-existing discontent. “For years, we adapted to the government’s every reform, always doing more with less staff,” she said. “But with Brexit, things will only get worse, especially in case of a no-deal scenario,” she added.

"In view of Brexit we are getting extra staff, just a few extra staff, which does not compensate for people leaving, being transferred or rotated," Schallebaum said.

Custom officers at the Franch-Swiss border joined in says union leader Vincent Thomazo

Actions in Marseille, Nice, Dunkirk, Calais and Paris

The French government has announced the recruitment of an extra 700 customs officials, over a period of three years, to cope with the demands of Brexit. However, unions say more are needed.

Work-to-rule strikes, which began Monday in the Channel ports of Dunkirk and Calais, northern France, led to long delays for trucks waiting to cross to Britain. “Strikes are also taking place in Marseille, as well as in Nice’s airports,” in the south of France, Azoulay-Fravel added.

On Thursday, some 500 heavy goods vehicules had been corralled in holding areas just short of Calais to avoid clogging road traffic but they were allowed to proceed later that evening, regional authorities reported.

Trucks were nevertheless still backed up for about four kilometres (2.4 miles) on the A16 motorway lane leading from Dunkirk to Calais, authorities added.

Customs officers’ representatives will meet the government minister in charge of customs, Gérald Darmanin, on Tuesday, said Azoulay-Fravel.

“We will see what comes out of that meeting, but we’ll maintain the strike if our demands are not taken into account,” she added. “But in any case, we are preparing ourselves for a no-deal Brexit. We are worried, as is everybody, including our superiors.”

Local newspaper La Voix du Nord reported many lorries were backed up on the Dunkirk-Calais railroad

(With AFP)

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