“Green Deal, Our Deal?” ETF’s Conference Highlights Urgent Need for Policy Reform in Transport Sector

22 Jan 2024

In a key conference held in Brussels, the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) brought together nearly 100 stakeholders, including trade union representatives, employers’ organisations, NGOs, and members of the European Commission, to address pressing issues in the land transport sector.

In her opening remarks, ETF General Secretary Livia Spera emphasised the urgent need for European and national transport policies to become more coherent and worker-centric. “Without immediate action,” Spera warned, “Europe risks facing a severe shortage of personnel to operate our trains, buses, trams, and trucks.”

The timing of the conference, just six months before the European elections, is strategic. It aims to shed light on the consequences of liberalising public transport over the years. The discussions highlighted the lack of comprehensive data and evaluation of policies that have contributed to a workforce shortage in the transport sector.

To inform the debates, the ETF commissioned expert reports from WMP and Progressive Policies, focusing on specific challenges in land transport. These reports are the foundation for discussing policy recommendations with social partners and European institutions.

The conference featured three roundtable debates focusing on passenger transport, the modal shift from road to rail in freight, and late developments in the platform economy. A recurring theme was the alleged labour shortage in the transport sectors. The ETF argues that the issue is less about the number of workers and more about the lack of jobs offering decent pay and conditions. Unpredictable work schedules and a recent surge in public violence against transport workers have exacerbated the situation, leading to higher turnover.

Discussions also highlighted the challenges in achieving Europe’s climate goals. The slow progress in shifting freight volumes from road to rail is a particular concern. Despite rigorous regulations, the road transport sector continues to engage in wage dumping, making it difficult for rail freight to compete. The potential closure of major rail freight operators due to EU state aid rule violations poses a further threat to achieving a balanced transport ecosystem.

The debate on platform work stressed once more the urgent need for a strong EU legal framework to protect platform workers’ rights. Union representatives called for a strong EU directive to regulate this sector.

The ETF proposed several measures ahead of the European Commission’s announcement of priorities for the next term. These include recognizing passenger transport as a public interest service, halting further liberalisation while promoting investment in service and job quality, revising state-aid rules for rail transport, and enforcing EU road transport rules more effectively, especially to protect third-country national drivers.

The ETF asserts that a genuine Green Deal, which benefits both the environment and transport workers, is only achievable through the social and economic sustainability of the transport sectors. This conference marks a significant step towards advocating for changes that align with these values.