Thursday, July 30, 2015

Staggering Migrant Figures as Road Haulage Freight Drivers Continue to Suffer at Calais

From France to Kent HGV Professionals Receive Little Support from the Authorities
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – UK – As the chronic delays for road haulage operators continue, and as the migrant situation in and around Calais shows no sign of abating, we see and hear tales of death and despondency, with freight vehicles held in enormous queues on either side of the Channel this week, and statements from both governments involved, the French promising more police, the British agreeing to a relaxation of drivers hours for those stuck in the seemingly endless jam. Road haulage operators are up in arms, not just those based in the two countries directly involved, but from Ireland and other points throughout Europe.

As one Egyptian man lies in hospital with serious injuries sustained from an electric shock received whilst trying to stow away on a UK bound Eurostar train, come some horrific statistics. Since June nine other migrants have died attempting to cross the Channel and now Eurotunnel has issued a statement which places the future of this crisis firmly in the hands of the two governments. Despite a meeting between Eurotunnel boss Jacques Gounon and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve this week during which the authorities promised 120 more police officers, and the Tunnel management agreed to more investment in security, it was clear where the rail carrier felt responsibility now lies.

Eurotunnel refers to the founding texts relating to the establishment of the Channel Tunnel Fixed Link (the Treaty of Canterbury and the Concession Agreement), which require the two states, ‘beyond their national responsibilities to enable the concession holder to conduct its transport activity securely’. The company then goes on to demonstrate the effort it has put in to mitigate the situation. Since January of this year Eurotunnel has intercepted and turned over to police a staggering 37,000 migrants and spent €13 million in additional security measures (having previously invested around €150 million ‘beyond its contractual obligations’ in fences, lighting, cameras, infra-red detectors etc.).

The company has also doubled security patrols to 200, including sniffer dog patrols, added new fencing to the platforms and provided buses to help police take away those apprehended, all the while keeping the Intergovernmental Commission for the Channel Tunnel and the other authorities involved informed of the developing crisis. Now the new fencing supplied by Britain to protect the terminal is being erected and measures have been taken for truck traffic and night services will from now on be provided on protected shuttles, and from the platforms in the centre of the terminal.

So what of those 37,000 poor souls passed over to the police and placed into the hands of the Procureur of the Court in Boulogne? Packed into ships and sent home? Escorted to specially drafted aeroplanes? Sent to a refugee camp specifically designed to hold them whilst each case was considered? No, the answer is that the details duly noted, no further action has been taken in any case, which in plain language means all were released back onto the street to try again.

Now we have reports of drivers being threatened with physical violence, loads stolen, goods urinated on as the lack of action by the authorities seemingly actively encourages the lawlessness. The migrants are desperate, and no doubt with good reason, but the authorities have a duty to protect the drivers and to ensure that they can undertake their daily tasks without fear.

Now the UK government has at least made it official that hauliers caught up in the continuing mayhem, particularly those drivers tied up by Operation Stack on the M20, will not face prosecution if they extend their working hours from the normal EU driving limit of 9 hours to 11 hours and reduce their daily rest requirements from 11 to 9 hours. This relaxation applies only to those who have used a cross channel ferry or Eurotunnel to reach or leave Kent; or are waiting within Kent for departure to mainland Europe; or are driving a commercial vehicle operated from an operating centre in Kent and whose journey has been disrupted.

The Department for Transport is anxious to point out that this relaxation is not available for other commercial vehicle drivers in Kent and is not available for international journeys that do not pass through Kent and that drivers must not drive if fatigued, something employers will also be held to account for.

The drivers in question must note on the back of their tachograph charts or printouts the reasons why they are exceeding the normally permitted limits. This is usual practice in emergencies and is, of course, essential for enforcement purposes. In addition, drivers of lorries within the “Operation Stack” queue can use exceptional provision to allow them to move slowly within the queue as required and they cannot claim this as a break or rest. Full details are available here.

The changes received a mixed reception from road freight transport groups with the Road Haulage Association (RHA) saying the announcement ‘goes too far’ and whilst the driving extension to 11 hours was sensible, the reduction of the rest period was ‘ill-judged and likely to lead to the exploitation of hauliers and their drivers and a reduction in road safety’. It is also puzzled by the enforceability of the provision regarding vehicles distributing in Kent and by the qualification that the vehicle must have its operating centre in the county.

The RHA statement says it is ‘astonished’ by what it calls the department’s gratuitous statement that, ‘as a general rule we expect business to plan for and manage the risks of disruption to supply chains’ and notes that the initial relaxation of enforcement is for one month, which appears to be an admission of defeat in the face of migrant intimidation, not a million miles from what Eurotunnel also seems to be saying.

The mood was reflected by the Irish Road Haulage Association which criticised the Irish government for lagging behind in acting on the situation with President of the IRHA, Verona Murphy pointing out that it had been highlighting the migrant issue for a month with no positive reaction.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) were a little more upbeat saying the announcement by the Department for Transport (DfT) to introduce a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours made perfect sense. Continuing that the move was a pragmatic approach to one part of a difficult situation which would hopefully allow freight operators to keep businesses supplied and the wheels of the economy turning. James Firth, FTA Head of Road Freight and Enforcement Policy said:

“The FTA is pleased that the DfT has recognised that Operation Stack is affecting domestic businesses in Kent as well as those on international journeys. The temporary relaxation of their driving hours will give those drivers delayed because of the situation in Calais extra time to complete jobs and get vehicles back to base, or on to a safe resting point on their journey.

“This is a proportionate response by the Government to just one aspect amongst many which have arisen as a result of the problems in Calais. Critically this relaxation means that drivers who have spent many hours queuing on one side of the Channel are not forced to immediately find somewhere safe and secure to park as soon as they have crossed. Kent and the areas around Calais are busy enough with vehicles waiting to make the crossing, there is no point adding to that pressure with vehicles that are already across also looking for somewhere to park.

“Ideally we need a long term answer to Operation Stack, this is the busiest time of the year for tourist and freight traffic heading through the county of Kent, and we have to find some way of resolving this reoccurring problem.”

Photo: Migrants queue to try and board a trailer which already has several people inside presumably to investigate the possibilities of using it to stow away or steal anything available.