“Fair transport remains an objective, rather than a reality” – ETF brings together key stakeholders in discussion on sustainability

11 Mar 2021

To kick off Sustainable Transport Days, the ETF brought together key players in EU transport and beyond to reflect on the future of these industries. Their contributions confirmed the fundamental truth about transport today: fair transport is not a reality, but an objective that can only be attained through collective action that will support a paradigm shift.

Speakers described the European transport sectors of today, where the blind pursuit of competition has resulted in liberalisation, deregulation, and social dumping. The ongoing global pandemic has further uncovered the often precarious and harsh working conditions. It brought to our attention the realities of seafarers stranded around the world, delivery workers exposed to health risks, the fragility of the aviation industry, and exposed the urgent need for change.

“We are tired of those who want to teach us a lesson on how transport works! We have enough of choices that are ignoring workers,” said ETF GS Livia Spera. “Nobody knows better than our members that transport policies have not been working for workers, and the future does not look any better.”

The conversations, however, didn’t stop at the description of our current, rather bleak, present. The speakers focused on the ways our current and future challenges can be overcome, ranging from collective bargaining, policy tools, everyday union action to questioning prevailing practices.

One thought was repeated throughout: a truly sustainable future and fair transport can never be achieved if transport workers are left out of policies and strategies.

Transport workers are actually the ones that keep transport sectors moving, as simply put by Matej Zakonjšek, Director of Transport Community. Livia Spera, Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union, and Oleg Grygoriuk, first Vice Chairman of MTWTU, all emphasised the fact that social dialogue and collective bargaining are key tools to achieving this. And now is the time for unions to shout about it. As Steve Cotton, ITF General Secretary, pointed out: “This is our opportunity to reboot our loud voice.” We have a long way ahead of us, as decades of encouraging competition above all else have left collective bargaining systems underdeveloped.

Pedro Nuno Santos, Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure and Housing, stressed the need to turn away from the obsession with competition, deregulation, and liberalisation that influenced transport policies over the last decades. We should develop strong, common, and, most importantly, binding standards instead, suggested MEP Karima Delli, to prevent social dumping. It is precisely the current lack of binding rules in the Commission’s Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy that puts implementation under question. Social and environmental standards are key to workers and societies’ wellbeing, and making them mandatory would confirm the decision-makers’ commitment to change. On this, Adina-Ioana Vălean, European Commissioner for Transport, highlighted the importance of such conversations and agreed that these were issues to be raised.

Shaping the future where transport is fair is a huge challenge, speakers agreed. And it is one that will require a strong political willingness from all sides to overcome it.

Workers can play a huge role in this process, as they know the industry’s reality and are in the best position to make recommendations on how to improve the sector. At the end of the day, cooperation and solidarity can help us address the issues and come up with policies that include a social dimension.

These principles are the foundations of Sustainable Transport Days discussions amongst transport unions for the next days to transform fair transport from objective to reality.