France - UK

SeaFrance workers cooperative takeover runs aground

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Plans for a workers’ cooperative to takeover the running of the cross-channel ferry company SeaFrance, which is facing bankruptcy, have been scrapped after a meeting on Thursday between the dominant trade union at SeaFrance and government ministers.


Reportedly, not enough employees were committed to investing their lay-off cash in the cooperative as some were close to retirement age.

Right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy had on Monday made a surprise U-turn and decided to back the bid, in a bid to score political points ahead of the April presidential election, say critics.

SeaFrance, which runs ferries between Calais and Dover, directly employs 880 people in France's hard-hit northwest and at least as many jobs again indirectly.

The cooperative, known as Scop, was to be financed by workers' standard lay-off  payments as well as "exceptional" cash of 60,000 euros per worker, paid by SeaFrance's parent company, state-owned rail form SNCF.

SeaFrance competes with the British firm P&O in carrying millions of passengers a year across the world's busiest sea route but both companies have suffered from competition from the Channel Tunnel since 1994.

SeaFrance was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, and in 2010 it shed 700 jobs and was put into receivership.

A bid by SeaFrance management to buy out the firm, backed by a 160-million-euro loan from SNCF, was blocked last year by the European Commission on competition grounds.

There are reports in the French right-wing press today that many SeaFrance employees are angry at the outcome of yesterday’s meeting and what some see as the hardline negotiating position of the CFDT Maritime Nord union.

Other trade unions representing SeaFrance personnel, as well as the wider regional branch of the trade CFDT trade union and the national office of the CFDT, have criticised the stance of the CFDT Maritime Nord.

They issued a communiqué expressing their disappointment over what they say was CFDT Maritime Nord’s refusal to examine other takeover projects.

A report in the right-wing Le Figaro quotes SeaFrance employees who say the CFDT union had too much power within the company, controlling recruitment and promotion and imposing its will on a weak management.

They say the union operated a mafia-style system, giving jobs to friends and members of the local football team run by two key union representatives.

Some SeaFrance workers have now formed a new group, to examine propositions put forward by other companies to takeover the ailing ferry service.

“We hope to include all those who, like us, hope to keep their jobs and maintain this French company”, a SeaFrance port worker told Le Figaro.





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