When is a posted worker in Europe not a posted worker? When he’s a truck driver, it seems.
‘A monthly pay of €1,000, no holidays, living separately from their families for two years—the bare figures alone are outrageous,’ the German magazine Stern reported on truck drivers from the Philippines who discovered the ‘wild west’ of Europe’s roads as posted workers for Polish companies. They had to share their driver cabin with a colleague and work, sleep and cook there.
Action on the European level is urgently needed to tackle such cross-border ‘day labour’. For the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), the most important step is to increase transnational controls and improve co-ordination among the member states’ executives.
Europe, however, seems to shy away from this solution. European decision makers have failed once again to create new rules on road haulage, in advance of the looming elections to the European Parliament in May. Where some saw too much liberalisation, others demanded even more
deregulation—and in the end there was no European consensus, neither on posting rules nor on driving and rest times.
On December 4th 2018, German media still considered the compromise of the European transport ministers on the European Commission’s proposal, the so-called EU Mobility Package, very positive: ‘More rights’, ‘EU to protect truck drivers’ and they ‘shall be better off’ promised the headlines. But promising paperwork is no guarantee of change.
In the commission proposals, under discussion between the Council of the EU and the parliament, trade unions cannot discern any fundamental improvements to the working conditions and wages of truck and coach drivers. Decent accommodation is essential to a dignified life, yet the Philippine drivers did not have access to adequate housing or proper beds in Europe before the Dutch trade union FNV and the DGB project ‘Fair Mobility’ encountered them. Since then, the unions have been taking care of them in Germany.
Thousands of people are working all around Europe in these or comparable conditions for weeks and months at a time. Since 2017, ‘Fair Mobility’ has talked to over 3,000 drivers on German and close-to-the-border parking lots and in their respective mother tongues. Every day, fundamental rights of long-distance drivers are violated. Nearly all have to risk their jobs to get paid the minimum wage, as employers only give it to them when they enforce it retroactively.
The ‘expenses model’
Drivers who deliver services on behalf of western-European companies under an eastern-European working contract commonly only benefit from eastern-European minimum wages—around €500 a month. In addition, they are entitled to supplementary expenses: they can stay in a motel and get a bit of restful sleep. But such accommodation is considerably more expensive than sleeping in the cabin next to the motorway, on a free parking lot where no one would like to stay for the night.
The reimbursement of expenses—as stipulated by EU law—should allow them to take a shower, use clean toilets or comply with the prohibition of sleeping in the cabin during weekends. Nonetheless, drivers prefer not to claim these expenses. The reason is simple: employers would consider them as an advance on their salary and consequently cut down the pay cheque. By doing this, they seemingly comply with the obligation to pay western-European minimum wages when posting workers all over Europe on behalf of western-European companies.
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The commission acknowledges that contractual relations with western-European clients are to be classified as posting and therefore entail a wage entitlement in the country where the work is delivered. So why is the ‘expenses model’ still so widespread? And why is it tolerated by the authorities?
Truck drivers work all across Europe with 40 tons of load but without health insurance. They are often fatigued because they work shifts of up to 15 hours, they must sleep not more than 10 metres from the motorway and they have to use their rest periods to carry out loading. Why do they accept all of this? ‘Because everyone does’ is the most common response.
It is no surprise that many EU countries complain about a huge lack of workers in the transport sector. It seems this profession has become so unattractive that employers cannot find drivers on the domestic labour market anymore. This is where the Philippine drivers come in.
Two hundred Filipinos have been working in Germany on a permanent basis without health insurance. They have been deprived of even minimum wages at their place of work.
The eight men whom the FNV and DGB are currently looking after have always started their drives from the headquarters of a German company. Even though the contractor in Denmark asked its German partner to confirm that it was paying German minimum wages, the Danish company shortchanged not only its drivers but also its business partners. Via a Polish letterbox company, specifically founded for this purpose, the workers were paid a salary of roughly €400 plus expenses, amounting to €600 a month—although they were working on behalf of a German firm. According to their contractual relationship, they actually were posted workers, and as such, they would have rightly aspired to a minimum wage of € 2.300—plus expenses.
Nearly three months later, and thanks to trade-union support, the drivers have demanded the payment of minimum wages, but the employer has not settled up yet. While the Filipinos are waiting for the company to pay, Brussels is about to discuss how to guarantee fair working conditions for transport workers. In the here and now, the FNV and DGB want to enable the drivers from the Philippines to accept a relatively fair job offer presented by a German employer.
Instead of trying to fix the patchwork of existing—and not respected—rules, the EU has to end the illegal practice of wage-dumping companies. Although road safety is thereby menaced, the council and the parliament agree that drivers should be allowed to work and sleep in the cabin for 20 days in a row before taking a regular rest of 45 hours. This would expand the nomad-like existence of truck drivers even more—highly dangerous for the drivers and other road users.
It is crucial to improve checks and controls. Apart from the introduction of digital tachographs at the earliest possible date, electronic consignment notes are needed. But laws and regulations do not help much if there are not enough staff to conduct controls. This is even more relevant as inspections are becoming more complex with the increased use of light-duty vehicles. Regulations on driving and rest periods and the obligatory use of digital tachographs have to apply to these 2.4-ton trucks as well.
Customers care about fair-trade products. Fair working conditions for the transport sector are part of them.
Martin Stuber is head of unit in the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), responsible for infrastructure and mobility policies. Michael Wahl is project co-ordinator for the DGB project ‘Fair Mobility’. He manages the information campaign for truck drivers from central and eastern Europe.