As Inland Waterways Transport (IWT) functions without having flag state legislation, it is challenging to indicate the national applicable labour law to those working in this de facto cross-border transport mode.
The habitual place of work is usually distributed over multiple EU Member States and sometimes even non-EU Member States. For the nautical crew on board of the IWT vessels, the issue is much better organised and determined by the long-standing Rhine principle. It links the applicable law and social security to the EU member states, where the operator has its seat, de facto one of the Rhine riparian countries.
However, for the large majority of the hotel, restaurant and catering staff active in the passenger side of the sector – the River Cruise branch – this is not the case. Dubious corporate structures are developed to diffuse the link between the employee and the “operator”.
Usually, these crewmembers are recruited via crewing agencies located in Malta, Cyprus, or even beyond (Indonesia, Philippines) on a seasonal basis. Often these crewmembers have to apply each year for the same job and, at times, have to pay more than a month’s salary to the crewing agent.
The European Commission directs that all EU Member States transpose IWT- related legislation except for Malta and Cyprus. For geographical reasons – both EU member states are islands – and thus, de facto, they do not have IWT on their territory.
However, both member states open their maritime register to thousands of the River Cruise Hotel staff. Due to these practices, many thousands of River Cruise crewmembers have no social security coverage, no pension to look forward to, and no coverage whatsoever in case of illness or accident.
As the European Commission is conducting a fitness check – including the 883/2004 regulation on the coordination of social security systems – the ETF strongly urges the Commission to close the loopholes once and for all to ensure decent social security rights for all activities in the IWT sector.