Drivers under pressure as Calais crisis rumbles on

Managing Director | France Line

Kent is indeed known as the Garden of England, but over the last few weeks, the situation there has been less than rosy for our hauliers and HGV drivers trying to cross the channel.

As a company, France Line specialises in the transportation of road freight between the UK and France.  We cover the whole of France and use all different ports but a large proportion of our freight travels via Dover – Calais and the Eurotunnel.

When the ferry services and / or Eurotunnel services have been disrupted, and when Operations Stack has been implemented, some of our drivers have been stuck in the long queues, meaning delayed deliveries and a knock on effect to our customers’ supply chain.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) estimates that Operation Stack costs the haulage industry £750,000 per day, and £250 million to the UK economy as a whole, with the value of perished fresh produce alone exceeding £10 million.  We think this is a reasonable estimate.

Of course, clandestine entry into the UK via Calais has long been an issue, but it has increased in recent weeks, and so have the problems faced by the freight industry.

The problems faced by our drivers are multiple, multi-faceted and far reaching.  Driver welfare is our major concern at France Line.  During Operation Stack, some of our drivers were stuck in their cabs for many hours, without toilets, washing and rest facilities.  We’re recommending that anyone approaching the Channel has water and provisions with them.

In Calais, we have had reports of drivers surrounded and swamped by large crowds of migrants, they are intimidated and their security is compromised.  Some of our drivers have been threatened with violence by increasingly audacious immigrants desperate to clamber aboard vehicles.

One of our drivers was actually physically attacked by a migrant he was trying to remove from his trailer, he was punched in the face, suffered concussion and blurred vision in one eye.  He had to go to A&E and was signed off work for a week.

The migrants are organised, they have tools and knives to break locks and cut curtain-sided vehicles.  It's just not safe for drivers to get out of their cabs to prevent this, and the cargo they transport is also very often compromised or damaged.

The chaos is only adding to the driver shortage too.  Some drivers have decided to stop doing international work altogether, and who can blame them?

Astonishingly, drivers and hauliers are still being penalised by the UK Border Force when migrants are found in their trailers.  I know that  the UK Border Force recently advised that it was “business as usual” for civil penalties being issued but the situation at Calais is far from usual, which is being reflected in the number of fines being up 50% on last year.  Frankly, we think that the system is just unfair to the drivers, given the dangers they face and the reasonable precautions they take.

The Calais crisis has been a challenge for many of our customers too, and for shippers generally speaking.  We do know that some manufacturers have had to reject spoiled products or to write off goods for fear of contamination when there have been migrants in the trailers.  The supply chain for many has been well and truly disrupted, and many have had to adjust their production schedules.

Whenever we can, we have been using alternative routes from the channel to guarantee deadlines and to meet our customers’ requirements, although there is a cost implication to France Line.  The alternative sailings are more expensive and this additional cost affects our margins.

All in all, the Calais situation is complex, it impacts the freight industry dramatically and detrimentally but it has got wider repercussions.  We’re calling for the British and French governments to find viable long term measures and solutions to the crisis that creates Operation Stack in the first place, and to have a look at the migrant camp in Calais, known as the ‘Jungle’, and bigger issue of immigration with all the other European leaders.