ETF study on driver fatigue hits the mark

15 Jun 2021

Recently, the ETF released a study on driver fatigue with irrefutable data revealing that fatigue in professional drivers is the norm on European roads and directly linked to their poor working conditions.

The study made waves in the press and attracted the attention of our social partner IRU who unfortunately deemed that the study “misses the mark”. But, facts and figures don’t lie. The ETF study hits the mark in more ways than one and provides constructive insight and recommendations to improve drivers’ working conditions and eliminate driver fatigue.

As a trade union federation, the ETF recognises the importance of social dialogue. Still, the limits of social dialogue in the road transport sector have been made clear in the past few years.

Save for a  few joint statements; the ETF has received no encouraging signs that the IRU is ready to truly tackle together with trade unions some of the systematic failures of the road transport sector.

Many instances have arisen where the ETF and the IRU did not meet eye to eye on the best path forward to improve working conditions for drivers.

  • The 2011 white paper was an opportunity for social partners to come up with a social code for the sector –but several joint meetings on posting of workers, driving and rest time and cabotage revealed views that differed too much to produce a joint outcome that would socially improve the sector
  • Our work on the shortage of drivers in the road transport sector did not go beyond statements despite expectations that IRU would lead a joint social partner project on this topic.
  • The ETF and the IRU discussed addressing social conditions in road transport, especially in the context of a social relaunch of road transport activity post-COVID. Unfortunately, both parties had divergent positions where the IRU was asking for financial aid from the member states, while the ETF’s red line was: no letter-box companies should benefit from aid…
  • On bus and coach, the IRU lobbied for a change in working and rest time rules that would be detrimental to drivers:
  • A 4-week reference period (meaning 3 weeks of driving with only 2 days off in between, in a sector where, for international coach tours, it is already allowed to drive 12 days without a day off)
  • Compensation for rest periods below 45 hours (which represents the normal rest) to be taken outside of season peaks (there is no season for bus and coach, every time of the year, be it winter or summer, is busy with tours)
  • The extension of the 12-day derogation to national coach tours
  • Increase working time for bus and coach drivers to 16 hours twice a week (currently, 15 hours maximum daily working time)

And of course, one must not forget that the IRU has always lobbied to further deregulate the bus and coach market as a means to make this service ‘more competitive, meaning a cheaper and more flexible workforce.

As the core work of the ETF is representing transport workers and ensuring dignity and fair conditions at work, we cannot just idly stand by while social conditions worsen in our sector.

Instead, we moved forward to tackle the core issues that rip road transport apart, making the sector completely unattractive – fraud, human trafficking, non-compliance with the law – and, yes, driver fatigue.

The fact of the matter is that problems uncovered by our study are strongly linked to the way road transport companies organise work.

The ETF study is based on a strong and solid methodology carried out by experts, and the recommendations stem from the hard facts and evidence uncovered by research.

As put by the IRU, “It is crucial that drivers and companies operate within the law, for example in respecting rest times.”. Indeed, they must. But unfortunately, they often do not as proven by our study and two recent documentaries (here and here), which provide full evidence that the recently adopted Mobility Package is completely ignored by part of the haulage sector.

The IRU calls our report one on safety and says safety ‘our most important shared concern’. But, our report goes beyond just safety. Our report shows the epidemic level of driver fatigue and reveals poor working conditions as the number one cause.

We, therefore, invite the IRU to sit with us and discuss “safety”, based on our hard facts and figures to eliminate driver fatigue, improve working conditions and ensure the well-being and safety of our drivers.