ETF to EU Transport Ministers: “It’s time to step up for fair transport!”

2 Jun 2021

Ahead of tomorrow’s Transport Council which will include discussions on the Smart Sustainable Mobility Strategy, the ETF implores transport ministers to lead the debate for change and show political will to set the basis and shift the paradigm of low-cost models, liberalisation and competition based on a race to the bottom that has dominated transport policies over the last decades.

In a letter to transport ministers, the ETF raises concerns over the lack of ambition displayed in the Council conclusions on the Smart Sustainable Mobility Strategy and their “business as usual” approach to transport workers’ working conditions.

Business as usual means that the SSMS does not aim to remove the factors that have led to a steep decline of working conditions in transport. Nowhere in the Commission’s proposal is there to be found any concrete commitments and/or actions that would deter social dumping and establish fair transport.

The Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy reads “transport workers are the most valuable asset”. If this was the fundamental belief of the Commission, why are there no concrete commitments or actions towards workers contained within the Strategy?

Transport policies have not yet delivered substantive policies for the workers, for the ecological transition or for the economic sustainability of the sector.

One telling example of this is the railway sector where the EU has high expectations that it will help Europe reach its climate targets: The ETF has analysed the detrimental effects of liberalisation on working conditions in the railway sector and if European and national leaders are to achieve a sustainable transport system then they must step away from the ideology of competition.

Tomorrow, the Portuguese Ministry plans for Europe’s Transport Ministers to debate the following question: “What other or additional actions or measures would deserve focus so as to achieve the objective of a more sustainable, smarter and more resilient transport and mobility system?“

And the ETF knows exactly what points should be addressed to ensure fair, sustainable, smarter and more resilient transport:

  • The same level of ambition to achieve social sustainability as for environmental sustainability;
  • A social transport policy agenda that ensures fair working conditions for all transport workers and deters unfair business models and social dumping practices;
  • The establishment of a cross-DG-Commission Task Force to engage with all aspects related to fair transport;
  • An initiative that includes fair labour costs in the notion of “fair pricing”, following the concepts of ‘internalization of external costs’ and “polluter pays principle”;
  • Concrete policy actions to eliminate the existing obstacles for women to join and remain in the transport sector;
  • Concrete measures to promote and enforce collective bargaining in the highly fragmented transport market as an important instrument to ensure fair working conditions, in line with the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights;
  • Urgent measures to ensure that the ecological and digital transitions are just to workers.

What is needed is a paradigm shift. Rethinking transport policies implies confronting competition policies and discussing price – price is a key element in ensuring the environmental and social performance of the sector. The logic of low cost is spreading to all transport modes. But the logic of low cost comes as a result of social dumping and dubious business practice which allows companies to keep their costs artificially low. They, these economically and socially exploitative companies, are the obstacle in the way of ensuring the modal switch that the Commission aims to achieve.

Tomorrow, EU’s transport ministers have an opportunity to step up for fair transport. Europe’s transport workers do not want to be called heroes anymore, they want decent working conditions and they expect their Transport Ministers to act.

Our open letter is available here.

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