A danger on the roads in Europe: one week to save a social mobility package

26 Nov 2018

In less than one week’s time, on 3 December, the governments of EU countries will meet in Brussels to seal the deal on the so-called Mobility Package: a major revision of EU rules covering the road transport sector. The current proposals look bleak for drivers’ wellbeing and the safety of all road users.

The ETF has constructively represented workers’ concerns for many months. But now we note with regret that an old pattern of EU behaviour is reemerging. After long debates, the Commission and the Council are getting impatient. As always here, in the heart of Europe, getting a deal is what matters most. Everyone forgets to look at what the deal actually says, and how it will the impact the work and life of Europe’s 3 million bus and truck drivers. In a blind rush to find a compromise, ministers now risk adopting new rules everyone will come to regret.

So what’s at stake for drivers?

To start with, they face more consecutive days of driving with less rest in between. That’s not just a problem for drivers, it will also make roads more dangerous for everyone. Fatigue kills.

Under current rules bus and truck drivers must have three days of rest every two weeks of driving. But the proposals flying around prioritise flexibility for bus operators and hauliers, and are meant to keep hyper-liberal countries happy so that they sign up to the compromise on 3 December. Governments are thus ready to sign up to a reverse system, with 3 weeks of driving and only 2 days of rest! They did not even request assessment of the impact this harsh driving and rest time regime would have on driver fatigue. By the way, the last Europe-wide study on driver fatigue dates from 2004. It was carried out by the ILO and the conclusions were alarming.

Are transport ministers ready to sign a deal without being aware of its implications for road safety? It seems so. We invite you to have a quick look through local press from the past months. Reports of road accidents abound. Take the example of Belgium: in the first 5 months of 2018, between 1 and 3 accidents involving trucks, buses and coaches happened every week. In 2016 the average number of accidents involving trucks was 6 per day in Belgium alone – a total of 2055 for the year.

According to the latest European Commission statistics, in the EU 14% of cycling fatalities are the result of crashes with large commercial vehicles (buses, coaches and trucks). Large vehicles were also responsible for 42% of pedestrian fatalities. In 2015, more than 600 people died in crashes involving buses, coaches and trucks. With this in mind, do we really want more tired drivers on European roads?

The European Commission has set the ambitious target to halve the number of road deaths in Europe by 2020. Today, the Commission admits that progress towards reaching this goal is too slow. It is also worth noting that in March 2017 EU transport ministers signed the Valletta Declaration on Road Safety, committing to once again push for the Commission’s goal. Less than two years later, as they stand ready to sign a measure that will make drivers work more with less rest, this commitment seems totally forgotten. So much for joined up thinking from our EU policymakers.

The deal on the ministers’ table also includes measures to help nomadic drivers – those sleeping in trucks on the side of the road for weeks on end – return home more often. But this is only if they accept having to sleep in their lorries for 3 weeks instead of 2. And sadly, the ministers’ definition of “home” is the country where the operator is based. Take the example of Estonian, Romanian or Bulgarian drivers who work for international haulage companies based in Slovakia – an expanding business model in road transport, since complex employment schemes make it easier to cheat on social security and wages. These workers would no longer be sent back to Estonia, Romania or Bulgaria as in current practice, but to Bratislava if the new rules said so. It would be cheaper for their employer, that’s for sure!

And then we come to rest in the vehicle. This was finally banned by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in December 2017 on the grounds that it has a negative impact on road safety and drivers’ health and safety. Since this judgment, drivers must be offered conditions to sleep outside the cabin every other working week. But that was too costly for the operators. They want their drivers next to the road for the weekend, guarding the truck and freight, and ready to go at 5am on Monday for the next long-haul journey. Hence, the 3rd of December proposal says drivers can spend their weekly rest in the cabin. Everything is possible in Brussels!

A recent project by the journalists at Investigate Europe revealed the shocking conditions truck drivers have to put up with. After 3 months, 20 parking area visits, and more than 100 truck drivers interviewed in 15 EU countries, they published press articles in 15 member states. Drivers face low pay, no insurance, they live in their trucks for months with no access to showers and toilets. Investigate Europe brought solid evidence on the exploitation of drivers by trucking companies serving one of the most profitable industries in Europe, the car manufacturers.

And bad news does not stop here. A recent scandal revealed that Filipino drivers were being brought into the EU on Polish contracts and kept in near slave-like conditions in Denmark, while working in Germany and the Netherlands. Is that why we created the European single market?

Transport ministers can no longer close their eyes to the millions of truck drivers roughing it on European roads. If they lift the ban on rest in the cabin, they simply maintain the status quo of a sector with a dreadful social record.

And finally we come to the question of fair pay. A fair application of the EU’s new posted worker rules would protect drivers from wage discrimination based on nationality. Drivers would be paid the salaries of the countries where they pick up and deliver, no matter where they are from. That is the best way to put an end to wage exploitation and unfair competition. But Member States are about to agree on an extended list of exemptions from the posting rules and some extremely feeble measures to enforce and control them. With it, we risk that fair pay for posted workers will never be really applied to road transport in practice. In fact, excluding drivers from the principle of ‘equal pay for the same work in the same place’ amounts to nothing more than the legalisation of social dumping.

So what are our proposals? The ETF calls on transport ministers to keep the driving and rest time rules unchanged, so that drivers are not fatigued and all road users are safe. We call for a total ban on spending weekly rest the vehicle cabin, in line with the ECJ’s ruling. What we need is criteria on rest conditions when drivers spend their weekly rest away from their home. We demand that there is no exemption from posting rules beyond the simple, bilateral transport operations. And we call for the EU policymakers to implement smart, modern, digital enforcement in road transport. The ETF is a serious partner in this debate. We have done our homework and presented concrete proposals on what should be included in the Mobility Package.

What Europe needs now is less rushing to political deals and a true will to see and address the real problems facing road transport sector and its workers.

As it stands, the deal on the table is utterly unacceptable. Our unions across Europe are braced for action, and we’ll be making ourselves heard for the whole week leading up to 3 December.