The surprise eleventh hour decision by the port authority, which claimed that the company had failed to meet its commitment to abide by local and national crewing rules, induced French tugs crew to call off the three-day strikes they were staging or were planning to stage at leading French ports.
Crews working for French towage leader Les Abeilles, who began a three-day strike on Wednesday and were planning to start another on Saturday, suspended their action as soon as they were informed of the port authority’s decision yesterday.
Those in other ports, who were due to begin a three-day strike today, suspended their notices of strike action yesterday evening.
The port authority gave SNRH 10 days to respond to its decision but the company has responded with an application for an injunction, to which it hopes to have a response from the Rouen court of administration by Sunday.
SNRH chairman and Kotug vice president, Dorus Knegtel, claimed that the French authorities had preferred to suspend SNRH rather than face a national towage strike despite the fact that the company was honouring its commitment to respect crewing rules.
“We can’t accept it,” he said, adding that there was no question of the company leaving Le Havre as a result of the port authority’s order to halt operations at the port.
He said that the company’s customers were “concerned” by the situation but had nevertheless shown themselves “very understanding” of the company’s plight, indicating that they would not abandon it because of its enforced lay-up.
“I can’t leave my customers,” said Mr. Knegtel, “because, if I do, they will be eaten up by the competition.
“We have to serve our customers and Kotug is not known for giving up so easily, particularly when we are seeking our rights.”
The port authority informed SNRH of its decision by letter, indicating that checks carried out had found it to be failing to meet commitments it had given regarding crewing arrangements aboard its vessels by letter on April 23.
The tug crews had began their action to protest at the decision of the port authority to renew SNRH’s operating licence recently despite the fact that the local maritime affairs service had found that crewing arrangements aboard its vessels were not in compliance with collective and local agreements.
The port authority explained, however, that it had decided to renew SNRH’s operating licence on the basis of the April 23 letter in which SNRH had indicated that it would bring its crewing arrangements into line with the agreements.
Mr. Knegtel insisted that that the company had kept to its commitment despite a report from the maritime affairs service to the contrary.