French workers threaten strike to halt Le Shuttle

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The Independent Online
British holidaymakers face the threat of more disruption today after French Eurotunnel workers prepared last night for a one-day strike.

The stoppage is likely to affect services on Le Shuttle, which transports vehicles and passengers through the Channel Tunnel between Folkestone and Calais. Freight services are also likely to be affected, but the separate Eurostar passenger train service, which operates between London and Waterloo and Paris Gare du Nord, will run normally.

It is not yet clear how much disruption the strike will cause. Trade union bosses were to hold a final meeting today to decide on the strike; they were unwilling to speculate on how many workers would be involved, or how long the strike would last.

In theory all sectors on the French side of the Channel may come out, for all or part of today. The strike has been triggered by long-term grievances over workers' conditions.

A spokesman for the CFDT union, the main representative of Eurotunnel workers, explained: "The original workers' statute was drawn up in 1991 without consultation with the French unions. We want to change this". Employees are becoming angry over working conditions. Principle grievances include payments of salaries and the length of shifts.

Recent events have aggravated their discontent, particularly the large pay rises for Eurotunnel bosses in 1996. Fears for safety have been fuelled by the fire last November, which injured three employees.

Trade union representatives are demanding a review of salaries, working hours, shifts and overtime payments. A meeting has been arranged with Eurotunnel directors on 29 July, but workers have decided to go ahead with the strike anyway. There are no plans for last-minute talks to try and avert disruption in one of the busiest periods of the year.

Le Shuttle operates between three and four passenger services per hour, carrying 6,000-9,000 vehicles each day.

Last Sunday, more than 9,500 vehicles took the underground route to France. The freight trains carry up to 1,300 lorries daily.

Although it is uncertain how many Eurotunnel workers will come out on strike, it is likely that industrial action of any kind in such a busy period will affect some trains leaving Folkestone today.