Coming home for Christmas: transport workers need guarantees, or essential goods will not reach the destination!

21 Dec 2020

Transport workers have been dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis and states’ measures throughout this year. And as 2020 draws to a close, new issues seem to be emerging, bringing transport workers’ safety as well as transportation of essential goods under question.

On Sunday evening, a number of EU member states closed their borders with the UK or introduced a ban on the flow of goods or people from the UK. As a result, hundreds of trucks and truck drivers have found themselves stuck in the UK. Meanwhile, some of the UK seafarers that were supposed to join ships and relieve their colleagues are unable to do so.


Truck drivers need guarantees that they can return home

Transport of goods between the UK and the continent is essential. Millions of people depend on these supplies. Truck drivers are the critical human factor that ensures that these exchanges can happen every day. But has Europe understood the challenge? It seems like it has not, as it has not provided any guarantees that drivers coming to the UK from the continent will be able to return home. And without these guarantees, how can we expect that drivers will continue to keep freight flows going?

For weeks already, truck drivers have been stuck in Calais, exposed to plight and misery. No access to food and facilities, long queues impacting on their work schedules and rest conditions, and threats to cargo and self-security in an area with huge unsolved migrant issues: all these poised their life for about a month now. Now the COVID-19 crisis has added a new dimension to it.

We cannot pretend that this will be solved in a few days – It will likely last long. Waiting times at borders won’t end tomorrow. It is expected that they will last well into 2021.

The UK Government, the European Commission and national governments must recognise the risk now. Unless they take action, there will be fewer and fewer drivers willing to take the routes of Britain.

The ETF, therefore, calls for the UK Government, the European Commission and national governments to come up with clear guarantees on:

  • The welfare of truck drivers stuck at borders, including by providing well equipped and well sanitised mobile units at borders, ensuring the access of drivers to sanitary facilities, hot food and drinks, and access to immediate medical assistance if necessary;
  • Drivers’ return home;
  • The security of driver and cargo during the entire border-crossing waiting times.

We once again point out at the fact that waiting times at borders must not affect drivers’ working hours and rest conditions. Waiting times are under certain conditions legally defined as periods of availability, and if not meeting these conditions, they must be considered working time. In any case, these periods spent queueing to cross borders must be compensated accordingly. Waiting times can under no circumstances be considered rest. Drivers need their rest in safe and secure conditions. No rest in the cabin is allowed for the normal and compensatory rest periods.


Seafarers need guarantees that they will be able to join ships and return home

We’ve learned from our affiliates that UK Officers that were supposed to join a ship today have been stuck in Germany for 12 hours, in conditions that don’t allow for social distancing, and without any food or drink. They arrived in Germany last night, and they’ve since been held in a “holding area”, presumably waiting for a COVID-19 test – following a negative result, they would be allowed to move forward. They’ve also been informed, however, that there are currently no test kits available. This example shows that the new measures risk aggravating the already critical crew change crisis.

The ETF urges the UK Government, the European Commission and national governments to step in and ensure that this example stays an anomaly. Seafarers have been through a lot this year, working continuously to ensure that essential goods were shipped. They deserve respect and immediate action that will ensure that they are able to take part in crew changes.