The Road Haulage Association has called it “mayhem” and charities, a humanitarian crisis. Whichever way you look at it the combination of a series of strikes by French ferry workers and migrants fleeing wars and poverty arriving in increasingly large numbers at Calais, France, in an attempt to reach the UK, is a headache for business.
The problems have caused delays on both sides of the Channel, with lorry drivers on the French side having the extra worry of trying to prevent migrants stowing away, possibly damaging cargo in the process.
On the UK side, The Kent Police’s system for coping with a backlog of lorries, Operation Stack, which uses stretches of the M20 as a lorry park, was used for 28 days between 23 June and 2 August. Now the government has announced it will use former Kent airport, Manston, as an “interim measure”.
Haulage firms and lorry drivers have been fined more than £4m in 2014-15, according to the BBC, after migrants were found in their vehicles, a 50% rise on fines from the year before. A fine can be as much as £2,000 per migrant, levied against both drivers and their employers.
The Road Haulage Association has had enough, calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to see for himself the “appalling conditions” drivers face in Calais.
Naturally, printers and their suppliers are concerned.
Morgana Systems’ vice-president offline business Ray Hillhouse says at least the impact is lessened by the time of year – several European countries are on shutdown – and part sales, which are Fedexed have not been hit.
“As a UK manufacturer, the haulage issues at Calais are a concern. Over 70% of the machines we manufacture are exported, and with Europe being our largest market it is causing disruption to deliveries of machines to our distributors.
“The last four months of the year are normally very busy for us on the export side, and we would be very concerned if this situation were to continue, as this may well have an impact on our last quarter sales.”
Other vendors are also hoping the situation doesn’t deteriorate.
Managing director of finishing specialist Terry Cooper Services (TCS) Chris Cooper says: “At the moment – touch wood – we haven’t had any problems. This is due to TCS currently having a good stock of machinery at Nottingham. Should we be waiting for our European manufactures to ship over machines then I would see this could possibly result in some delays.”
The weak euro and its proximity to southern England can make mainland Europe an attractive destination for print buyers.
Home Retail Group, owner of Argos, is one that has had to take action because of the situation.
Head of publications and new media Dominic Pemberton says: “Due to the rapid deployment of our contingency plan and the combined efforts of our print and binding partners we have experienced minimal disruption due to the recent problems at Calais.”
Fortunately, not every business uses the Calais route.
Northern & Shell prints its papers at Westferry Printers in Luton, Bedfordshire but supplements are printed abroad.
Head of print Kevin Fitzgerald said: “Our print comes through a different route, by sea from a Holland port, so we’re not affected by it. I would think most people are avoiding Calais, they won’t go through that route given the problems.”
European print production manager at fashion brand Lands’ End, Joanne Hurst said her company imports paper from Finland, Sweden or Germany but believes it all comes through Tilbury. She also uses printers in Holland, Germany and France to print German and French catalogues, but they saddlestitch and inkjet inline, before mailing to customers on the Continent.
“Like most of us I’m concerned about the current situation. The human implications alone are very worrying,” she says.
Christophe Philips, commercial director at continental print group Circle Printers, has heard of incidents where magazines or catalogue sections printed in Europe for UK clients were blocked at Calais.
“We don’t have any problems because we go through Zeebrugge in Belgium. For us, on a cost basis it is better to go through Zeebrugge than Calais,” he adds.
Many of big papermakers ship direct to the UK. APP UK and European director, sustainability, Lee Henderson says his company’s use of road haulage for moving stock around Europe is limited.
“I’d anticipate some disruption as the model particularly for merchants tends to involve road haulage from European mills.
“For the UK market, we have bonded containers that are shipped directly from Indonesia into Felixstowe or Tilbury docks.”
The majority of Middleton Paper’s supplies also come through East Coast ports such as Felixstowe and Harwich. Commercial director Ian Pentland says his company had been fortunate.
But new paper agent Paper2Print, established by joint directors David Melville and Richard Wilson, formerly key account directors at Paperlinx’s web division, acts for German mill Feldmuehle Uetersen which delivers via lorry through the Calais-Dover route.
“We’ve had a few issues, nothing major. We’ve had half a dozen vehicles that have been late, nothing as bad as we thought it was going to be,” says Wilson, who adds that Paper2Print is considering changing route. “The mill is close to Hamburg in Germany so we’re looking to go that route, that’s probably where we are going to be in a few months time. We’ve not heard about any problems with migrants, its pure volume of traffic. And people have been very understanding.”
Another paper merchant, who does not want to be named, has experienced delays of up to four hours, something which could become a concern if “it went on for months and months”.
Migrants made an estimated 1,700 attempts to break into the Channel tunnel terminal overnight in the first weekend of August, leading to clashes with French police. On the same weekend 1,800 people were rescued off the Libyan coast in boats heading for Italy. An estimated 170,000 made the trip last year, and 85,000 in January to June this year. Many of the ones that land safely and escape the clutches of the authorities have one plan – to head here and so the UK government is still advising there is “an on-going possibility of disruption to cross-Channel services”.
Printers and their suppliers will be hoping their businesses won’t be disrupted too.