A little cheerfulness has been breaking out over the past two days in a windy and wintry Calais… or more precisely among the 533 employees of the cross-channel ferry company MyFerryLink which has its main base there.
MyFerryLink operates three boats on the Dover-Calais crossing, and is structured as a workers’ cooperative incorporated under French law (to be technical, it is a SCOP, a société coopérative et participative). The coop was created two years ago, with trade union support, after the former ferry operator SeaFrance went out of business and the majority of MyFerryLink’s workers are ex-SeaFrance staff. You can read the piece I wrote at the time for The Guardian here.
When the cooperative was established it did a deal with EuroTunnel, who purchased the three ships MyFerryLink needed and leased them back to the coop. EuroTunnel also encouraged freight operators with hazardous cargo to use the boats rather than the tunnel. However this arrangement fell foul of the UK Competition Commission which ruled in July that EuroTunnel had acquired an unfair market share. As a consequence MyFerryLink were told they would have to stop using Dover port, potentially putting the fledgling venture out of business.
The Competition Commission ruling was partially overturned at an appeal earlier this week in London. Although the legal battle is continuing, the response in France has been to see the tribunal decision as “a victory and a relief”, according to MyFerryLink senior management. “We’re proud of all that the staff have done since the start of this adventure, which has been difficult,” said Raphaël Doutrebente, deputy Director-General for the cooperative in an interview yesterday with the newspaper Libération.