The EU road transport sector has grown spectacularly over the past decade, due to strengths such as door-to-door service and just-in-time deliveries. On the other hand, transport by road is not a wealthy sector because competition among operators is extremely harsh. Road transport is a sector dominated by small and medium operators working to low profit margins. The drive to cut costs, and a 75% drop in authorities’ capacity to enforce regulations, means that social and labour conditions have depreciated substantially. Nowadays illegal practices are becoming the norm.
Drivers rest on average 6 hours per day, and work on average more than 48 hours per week. They spend many weekends away from their families, whether they are coach drivers on long haul trips during peak seasons or truck drivers having to work far away from their home country. Meanwhile, modernising forces strongly promote automation and digitalisation in road transport. However, the fax machine and paper documents are key for roadside checks on working conditions, and there is a strong resistance to the rapid introduction of digital tools for controlling driving and rest time which could take on this enforcement role.
Road transport workers also struggle with the sector’s safety deficit. According to the latest European Commission statistics (dated 2015), 14% of Europe’s cycling fatalities came as a result of crashes with large commercial vehicles. Large vehicles were also responsible for 42% of pedestrian fatalities. More than 600 people, passengers and professional drivers died in crashes involving buses, coaches and trucks.
It is in this context that the ETF Road Transport Section set its priorities for the current 5-year inter-Congress period. Our vision is one of Fair Transport for all professional bus, coach and freight drivers – and for other road users too.
The EU road transport sector is in a crucial phase. We face the current revision of its EU regulatory framework, also known as the Mobility Package, and an unprecedented desire at EU-level to develop a digital agenda for the sector.
The Mobility Package is expected to simplify and clarify the EU regulatory framework in road transport. A massive number of EU directives and regulations are under scrutiny as part of this initiative, covering both freight and passenger transport. There are risks where this touches on drivers’ pay, time off work, and quality of rest. But there are also opportunities on access to domestic haulage and passenger transport markets, and the controversial letter-box companies. The Section will contribute to this massive revision process with constructive, clear and concrete proposals on how to restore fair competition in the sector, improve social and labour conditions, and thus ultimately make the sector more attractive for young people. We will also prioritise improving the sector’s legal compliance and road safety record.
On the other hand, it is generally acknowledged that the road transport sector urgently needs to modernise. The ETF has already called for massive introduction of innovation and technology in all law enforcement processes. The ongoing EU debate on ‘smart’ enforcement owes a great deal to the ETF, as we have already published a set of concrete proposals on how to better control a whole range of EU rules varying from posting to cabotage. Taking it from there, building Section know-how and developing a Section position on digitalisation and automated driving is now one of the key topics of our current 5-year work programme.
With social dumping in road transport high on the political agendas of national governments and the EU Institutions, the Section will continue campaigning for the improvement of working and living conditions for drivers, both in road passenger and freight transport. Achieving this goal is only possible if transport unions shift the balance of power to their advantage, by strengthening their ranks via recruitment and better representation of their members, who are essentially mobile workers, in a cross-border context. Cross-border organising of professional drivers will remain one of the Section’s key goals.
To adequately respond to the challenges posed by changes in the road transport sector, both passenger and freight, the Section and its member organisations will need to further build strength and capacity via continuous training, information and research. This will enable us to ensure that innovation and technical progress – digitalisation – works in to the advantage of our members and not against them. For the training part, the ETF Secretariat will work in close partnership with organisations such as the European Trade Union Institute and with union-friendly foundations. In as much as Section resources allow, research will be conducted with external experts on the priority topics.
Across Europe, social dialogue is part and parcel of the culture of industrial relations. Thus, social dialogue remains one of our priorities, as a key tactical instrument to push the social and labour concerns on the joint social partner agenda.
Finally, it is essential that the Section forges strategic alliances with key organisations, such as the European organisation of national road transport enforcement agencies Euro Contrôle Route (ECR), with road safety organisations such as the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) and with user groups such as the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims and the European Cyclist Federation. Our cooperation with the latter three has been extremely effective in drawing public attention to road safety, one of our key priorities for the current inter-Congress period.