ANY faint hopes that the Brittany Ferries dispute could be resolved in a meeting at the transport ministry today vanished when the management did not turn up.
Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier had asked company bosses to attend a round-table meeting with union and local government leaders in a bid to broker a deal in the dispute, which has seen all ferries cancelled until Tuesday morning.
The meeting opened as protestors reached the company's offices in Roscoff after a mass meeting and march from the Gare Maritime.
Cuvillier said the future of the company was "at risk, as well as the jobs of more than 2,500 men and women working under the French flag".
Brittany Ferries suspended all sailings a week ago after a series of wildcat strikes which disrupted services to and from France and Spain. Negotiations between the two sides saw them reach an agreement on Wednesday that was later rejected by ships' crews in meetings
Crew had been unhappy with the company's plan to cut certain bonuses and change working patterns as it tried to get back into profit. Last year it lost €18million and over four years it has lost €70m.
The unions said they had offered the company 12 months of peace if they were given time to consult fully with members on its plans. Union officials had accepted the company's latest proposal but it was rejected by crews on board the Pont Aven, Normandie and Cap Finistère.
Union official Christian Leblond said that by not getting the vessels back to sea the company was losing more money than it would gain by continuing to cancel sailings. He told Le Télégramme: "In keeping these ships at quayside while the crew are ready to restart work the company is losing the €6m it wanted to save."
However, company sources said savings on pay and fuel would go a large way to offsetting any loss of income, which was in any case tailing down at the end of the season.
Brittany Ferries has advised passengers with bookings to head for Calais or Dover where it has organised free passage on P&O and MyFerryLink services. More than 50,000 passengers and 4,500 freight vehicles will have been affected by the end of this weekend.
Its Cherbourg-Poole service - which is run by Condor Ferries - is not affected by the dispute and Brittany Ferries has extended the run to next Friday to help passengers with bookings.