ETF appeals to Trio Presidency ministers: It’s time for a fair, socially sustainable transport sector!

8 Jul 2020


Responding to their Trio Programme, ETF addressed a letter to transport ministers of Germany, Slovenia, and Portugal, urging them to use their Council presidencies to steer European transport to a fair future.


Dear Transport Ministers,

The ETF, on behalf of over 200 affiliates representing nearly 5 million members in 41 European countries, would like to share our reaction to your recent Declaration given the launch of your Trio Presidency.

We attentively read your Trio Programme and were concerned to note that although you speak of strengthening the transport sector, and go as far as to say that you have seen the “immense strategic significance of a well-functioning European transport area and efficient logistics chains during times of crisis”, not once do you mention the workers who make all of this possible.

There is not a single reference to the transport workers who have kept Europe moving during this pandemic. You mention the word “emergency” in your Declaration, but omit that transport is also facing a social emergency.

Indeed, though we can all agree that “mobility is among the most basic needs of our society”, and that this should be supported by “innovation for sustainable mobility”, we must also see eye-to-eye on the way forward.

Throughout this crisis, we have witnessed the violation of transport workers’ social and labour rights. Denial of social security due to precarious contracts. Lack of personal protective equipment and safety standards. Fired. Working conditions lowered. These are just some of the realities transport workers have had to cope with.

This crisis has laid bare and further exacerbated the cracks in the transport sector. A truly sustainable transport sector that fulfils the goals you put forward in your Declaration will never be achieved without fixing these cracks.

How can we dream of achieving sustainability if social dumping practices, low working conditions, growing liberalisation and incentivised competition continue to plague such a vital sector?

Simply put, we cannot.

So how do we achieve sustainability and resilience?

Recovery for the transport sector that shapes “sustainable, innovative, resilient, and affordable mobility” must address first address the industry’s structural problems.

The European Green Deal has to be ambitious and come with an industrial policy for transport, combining employment and environmental protection. We need a vision to rebuild a sector that has been hit by continuous waves of liberalisation and privatisation.

The European Green Deal aims to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050, but unfortunately, we cannot accomplish this by just looking at the cost of environmental externalities. You must also look at how the price of transport is kept artificially low through dubious business models such as letter-box companies and social shopping within the internal market. Maintaining the cost of transport at an artificially low level has made the sector unsustainable. The low-cost model that has spread in freight and passenger transport has proven to be far from environmentally and socially sustainable. There is a need for transport policies to be revised by addressing the issues in the supply chain.

The price of transport must internalise both environmental and social costs. Acting to establish a fair price for transport is a crucial element to deter social dumping practices, to set a level playing field between transport modes, and increase environmental sustainability.

Social dumping is everywhere in transport, and we need a plan to fight it. This means designing a social policy for the sector, through legislation, controls and enforcement, through a push for sectoral collective bargaining. This will require acting on the whole supply chain, pushing shippers to pay the right price.

Besides digitalisation and climate change, and in light of the above, we call for a third pillar on social policy for transport and suggest the implementation of an inter-service task force to achieve this. In turn, unions must be included in these discussions. In your Declaration, you mention “transparency” as one of your guiding principles, and we hope that you will make good on your promise by conferring with the representatives of transport workers.

Open Data and the use of artificial intelligence are mentioned as key points in your ambitions to transform the transport sector digitally. However, we must stress the importance of public ownership of public data. Private companies using data provided by public authorities such as traffic flows must adhere to labour laws and tax regimes. Furthermore, data and artificial intelligence must be used transparently, and not to dehumanise transport by discriminating against or controlling workers; who must always remain in command.

In light of your commitment to the recovery, resiliency and sustainability of the transport sector, we urge you to shape the European mobility sector in a socially sustainable way. Our 5 million transport workers are counting on you. The wait has been far too long; it is now time for a fair transport sector.


The letter, including sectional contributions, is available here.