European Truck Driver Shortage: only way forward is good pay and conditions!

30 Sep 2021

The headlines may be full of news about the driver shortage across Europe, but ETF and our affiliates have been issuing warnings for years over Europe’s broken road transport sector. ONLY now that we see and feel in our daily lives the direct effects of the driver’s shortage reflected in the fuel crisis or in the lack of food and other products in our shops – but workers in the sector have struggled for years.

Europe faces a systematic shortage of HGV drivers – thanks to a sector defined by low pay and poor conditions. The only answer to the current crisis is moving the road transport sector to one where drivers are paid fairly and work under good conditions, protected by fair rules. And it is also essential that those rules are enforced!

At ETF we believe there is not a shortage of drivers, there is a problem of decent jobs available for the drivers. We must improve conditions for drivers in the sector, fighting back against the race to the bottom in an industry obsessed with lowering costs. Increasing driver wages and improvement in conditions is the only answer to the crisis.

Crisis in the UK

This week saw focus fall on the UK, where the lack of drivers has led to major shortages in supply chains and fuel supplies. Like many European countries, the UK faces a shortfall in drivers, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and EU drivers leaving after Brexit have made the crisis particularly acute.

With a mood of crisis in the air over shortages in the shops and the closure of fuel stations, facing a shortfall of 100,000 drivers, the reaction from the UK government has been to relax driver testing standards, and offer 5,000 short term visas to tempt drivers to come to the country for work.

Offering EU drivers a three-month visa won’t solve the crisis in the short or long term. ETF affiliate UNITE has warned that this system will only plunder workers from other nations, avoiding the big challenges facing the haulage industry, leading to worse disruption down the line. Whether EU drivers will travel to the UK under a visa that will expire on Christmas eve remains to be seen, given the demand for drivers all over Europe, and concerns that drivers from overseas will be paid and treated differently from UK drivers.

The only way forward to a healthy road transport sector is through collective bargaining. We have been issuing warnings that the current situation is untenable. The industry must sit down with unions and drivers and pledge to improve working conditions and offer adequate pay, and respectful jobs. Through collective bargaining, unions will help solve the driver shortage crisis.

Unions fighting back

For years ETF has been working to improve conditions for drivers across Europe – we believe it is not only in the interest of drivers but the only logical solution for a healthy functioning road transportation sector! Across Europe the daily reality for drivers is grim; low pay, poor quality rest areas, long hours behind the wheel away from home – is it any wonder there is a struggle to recruit new drivers, while many choose to leave the industry? Amidst a race to the bottom in pay, we continue to see the haulage sector exploit drivers from central and eastern European countries, as well as third countries.

Earlier this year, the results of an ETF study on fatigue in road transport underscored the exploitative nature of road transport. Of the drivers we spoke to, 60% of truck drivers said they have to drive while fatigued on a regular basis, a third reported falling asleep at the wheel, and 57% said they regularly wanted to pull over and take a break but were unable to. Fatigue is never the driver’s fault: poor working conditions create fatigue.

And when a driver wants to rest – where are the quality rest areas? In the EU, there is a shortfall of 100,000 truck parking spaces to meet total demand, and less than 3% – 7,000 out of 300,000 are in certified safe and secure areas.

What about EU policies? Since 2020, the EU Mobility Package has been in place, setting new rules for a fairer road transport sector. Designed to protect drivers, clamp down on bad actors and ensure the sector is fair for all players; ETF campaigned for and supports the Mobility Package.

For drivers, the package ends the practice of weekly rest time in vehicles, helps stop drivers from spending long stretches of time away from their family and strengthens measures against excess driving time.

Yet what we need now is enforcement. If road transport is to become a fair sector, it is imperative that the package is enforced across Europe!

Is it any wonder there is a driver shortage?

We find ourselves in a situation where, only 5% of truck drivers are under the age of 25, and much of the workforce is ageing – the average age of a driver is 44; action is clearly needed to fix the sector and make it appealing and fair to attract young workers while retaining experienced drivers.

So do we continue as normal – low pay and bad working conditions, combined with exploitative behaviour by companies? Or do we create a healthy road transport sector – through collective bargaining to ensure good jobs and fair transport? For ETF, the solution is clear.

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