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UPDATED: How strikes will hit travel between France and the UK this Christmas

Anyone planning a trip between France and the UK this Christmas or New Year is facing widespread strike action, delays and cancellations. Here is the latest on which services will run.

UPDATED: How strikes will hit travel between France and the UK this Christmas
Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP

Planes, trains, ferries and even roads look set to be affected by UK strike action, while French rail and airline unions have also filed strike notices.

The British actions come in the context of widespread industrial action from nurses to postal workers, train drivers to border guards, all of whom are striking to win pay rises above the rate of inflation that will help them cope with the spiralling cost of living.

Here’s a look at how travel will be affected;

Eurostar

UK-based security staff will walk out on December 22nd and 23rd. The UK’s RMT union is also taking strike action between December 24th and 27th.

The Eurostar will be running fewer services than usual on December 23rd and 24th and has cancelled several services and changed the times of others – anyone with a pre-booked train is advised to check the website or app.

Eurostar will be running no services at all on December 26th due to strike action that has closed lines.

At present services from December 27th to January 1st are listed as running normally, but things can change closer to the time. Eurostar says it is “currently assessing the impact” of more planned strikes between January 3rd and 7th.

Passengers should be notified about cancellations or changes, but some Eurostar passengers have reported not getting updates about earlier cancellations, so it would be a good idea to keep an eye on the Eurostar website or app for any timetable changes. 

Flights 

Border guards belonging to the Public and Commercial Services union have called strike action from December 23rd until December 31st, with the exception of December 27th, at Heathrow (Terminals 2,3,4 and 5), Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff airports.

The UK government has warned arrivals to “expect delays and disruption” at airports – 75 percent of passport control staff are PCS union members. The main effect will be long waits at passport control (some are predicting up to 10 hours) but there may also be flight cancellations as passengers may have to wait before disembarking their plane – something that will affect other incoming flights.

Anyone with a pre-booked ticket will be contacted by their airline if their flight is cancelled, but travellers should allow plenty of time to clear passport control.

In France cabin crew working for Easyjet have withdrawn their strike notice after successful pay negotiations, and Air France says it will be running normal services over the Christmas and New Year period. 

Ferries

The UK border guards’ strike will also affect the ferry port of Newhaven, so there could also be delays for passengers on the Dieppe-Newhaven route, but cancellations are a lot less likely due to significantly lower volume of traffic through Newhaven.

The PCS strike does not include staff at Dover, Folkestone, Plymouth or Portsmouth.

Channel Tunnel

The border guards strike does not include staff at Folkestone, and train drivers on the Channel Tunnel do not belong to the RMT, so Channel Tunnel services should be running as normal.

Eurotunnel bosses say that unspecified “technical difficulties” at Folkestone which caused six-hour waits on December 19th have now been resolved.

Services are expected to be extremely busy as travellers change their plans to avoid flying or taking the train. There are also possible road disruptions in the UK (more below).

Domestic travel

So that’s travel services between France and the UK, but there are also issues to be aware of on both sides of the Channel once you leave the port/airport/station.

In the UK

Rail strikes – The biggest impact is likely to be on the railways, National Rail Enquiries says: “Due to various industrial action, there will be a reduced train services across the rail network from Tuesday, December 13th 2022 until Sunday, January 8th 2023. Significant disruption is expected across the rail network. Trains will be busier and likely to start later and finish earlier, and there will be no services at all in some places.”

The RMT union is taking strike action on December 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th, 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th.

Outside of strike days, union members are also refusing to do any overtime outside of their contracted work hours – and it is estimated that this will see around 20 percent of services cancelled. It seems that the disruption is concentrated on local services, rather than intercity routes. 

Roads – travel by road could also be disrupted over the holidays because of a strike by National Highways control room staff. These workers have a largely unseen but important role – including monitoring CCTV, programming motorway matrix boards and co-ordinating with emergency services. It essentially means that work to mitigate the effects of crashes, breakdowns or bottlenecks will happen more slowly, leading to unusually long traffic jams on motorways and A roads.

These strikes are on a regional basis – December 16th and 17th in the north-west, north-east, Yorkshire and Humber, December 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th for London and the south-east, December 30th and 31st for the West Midlands and south west and January 6th and 7th for the east Midlands and eastern England.

All National Highways workplaces will take industrial action on January 3rd and 4th.

In France

French rail workers are also taking strike action from Friday, December 23rd to Monday, 26th and SNCF says that only two in five of the normal services will be running on those days – with cancellations concentrated on the high-speed TGV lines. It does not affect local TER trains or city or suburban public transport.

The busy Christmas period means that most trains are full, so that people whose trains have been cancelled are struggling to book an alternative – SNCF is offering refunds of double the ticket price to anyone who cannot travel.

However a second strike – planned for December 30th to January 2nd – has been called off after a deal was reached.

You can keep up to date with all the latest strike news in our strike section HERE, and we will also update this article as things become clearer.

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POLITICS

Calls to limit right to strike in Paris during the Olympics

Paris regional officials have reportedly asked the French Senate to limit the right to strike during the 2024 Olympics in an effort to ensure smooth operations for public transport.

Calls to limit right to strike in Paris during the Olympics

As unions organise ahead of a day of mobilisation and walkouts on January 31st to protest proposed pension reform, head of the greater Paris region (and right-wing former presidential candidate) Valérie Pécresse ha reportedly requested that the French government restricts the right to strike during the 2024 Games.

A member of Pécresse’s team told Le Parisien that the objective was to place limits on the right to strike in an attempt to stop certain unions from abusing the right and “completely disrupting [public transport] services”. 

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember

However, the proposals were rejected by the French Senate and were denounced by unions as “another attack on the right to strike”.

Although strikes are common in France there are some limits – workers in essential industries like public transport must give 48 hours’ notice of their intention to strike and workers in certain sectors including the army and emergency services are banned from striking.

The French government also has a rarely-used strike-busting power which allows it to force strikers back to work if their actions are affecting the security of the county.

Pécresse’s request came just a few days before the French government was set to debate an “Olympics bill” – which will establish some exemptions to current regulations in the effort of ensuring “smooth running” of the Olympic Games in 2024.

Concerns have arisen regarding the possibility of industrial action during the Olympic Games, which will come after the controversial opening up of competition the Paris public transport system (the RATP). During a speech in mid-January, Pécresse told IDFM that she hoped to create “100 percent guaranteed service during peak hours” on public transport, even during strike action.

Members of French President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet have also expressed apprehension about possible strike action during the Olympics.

The attempt to add amendments that would restrict striking came just a day after French Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, told Télématin that there were no plans to “touch the right to strike”, but that Macron had tasked the ministry with look into setting up more significant warning periods, as well as safeguarded periods for “vacation departures”. The minister also discussed the idea of having reserves of workers who could be mobilised to help during strike periods.

It was a member of Pécresse’s centre-right party – Philippe Tabarot – sought to add amendments restricting the right to strike to the bill, but they were ultimately rejected by the Senate. He referred to strike action at French national rail services (SNCF) during the Christmas holidays – which left 200,000 people without transport – as “intolerable” and said that “the right to strike is now being abused”.

READ MORE: ‘You don’t strike at Christmas’ – fury in France as trains cancelled

According to Le Parisien, Tabraot specifically sought require unions to provide strike notice at least 72-hours ahead of industrial action – instead of the current 48-hours. Additionally, the proposed amendments would make it so unions could not reactive an old “unlimited” strike notice that was filed several years ago and has since gone unused. The latter would attempt to diminish workers’ ability to spontaneously walk out.

And finally Tabarot hoped to add an amendment that would limit ‘short strikes’ by requiring workers to join strike action “at the start of their first shift” that day. This would make it so workers could not walk out in the middle of services for ‘short’ (under 59 minute) strikes.

Even though Tabarot’s amendments were not accepted during this attempt, the elected official said that the Senate would have to return to the subject in the following weeks and months, as the French parliament continues to consider the Olympics bill.

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