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Fresh strikes bring French cargo ports to a standstill

CARGO-handling was brought to a standstill at leading French ports yesterday [THURS] as thousands of workers responded to union calls for a national day of action to protest over the government’s handling of the economic crisis.The day of action was the second since the start of the year as union leaders pressed the government for a “change of direction”. For many port workers, that means a review of the port reform currently in progress and, notably the transfers of port authority terminal personnel to stand-alone terminal operating companies. Union leaders claim that the transfer plans currently being drawn up by the seven leading ports involved in the reform have been rendered largely inapplicable by the impact of the economic downturn on terminal operating companies. Port employers are pressing the government not to give way to union demands for a renegotiation of the reform, however, arguing that the reform law passed in July last year must be applied if French ports are to be made more competitive in relation to their European Union neighbours. At Marseilles, France’s leading cargo port, all cargo-handling activity was at a standstill yesterday as port authority workers and dockers staged a 24-hour strike as called for by the ports and docks federation of the CGT union confederation. Marseilles-based ferry companies SNCM and Compagnie Méridionale de Navigation were obliged to cancel sailings to Corsica as seafarers also took part in the strike. At Le Havre, the leading French container port, all container terminals were at a standstill, although the port said that ferry traffic was unaffected by the strike. At Dunkirk, France’s third biggest cargo port, a spokeswoman said that the eastern docks had been brought to a standstill by action by port authority personnel but that the western docks, where container and ferry traffic are based, were functioning normally. Nearby Calais, France’s leading passenger port, was unaffected by the strike. A spokesman said that port and ferry services were all functioning normally.

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