Towards socially fair and competitive road transport in the European Union

The Seminar titled „Towards socially fair and competitive road transport in the European Union” was organised by the National Confederation of Workers’ Councils (MOSZ) on 24th – 25th January 2019 with the support of EZA and of the European Union. The seminar was part of the EZA project co-ordination about “Quality of work”.

The event was opened by the welcoming speech of Mr. Imre Palkovics, the president of MOSZ. He expressed his gratitude to the present Italian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovakian, Serbian colleagues from EZA member organisations representing the road transport sector, further to the representatives of the three Hungarian sectoral trade unions (Road Transport Trade Union, Road Transport Confederation of Workers’ Councils, Independent Trade Union of Railway Workers) for accepting the invitation on such a short notice.

As he said, the topic of the Seminar is the participation at the European level discussions towards a socially fair and better working conditions. He expressed his distinguished warm welcome to Mr. Bartho Pronk, the honorary president of EZA, who has honoured the event with his presence and whom we can thank for numerous cooperation and support. He stated: EZA and MOSZ have decided to put the topic of road transport on the agenda, since both Eastern and Western – Southern European trade unions are interested in the evolution of the regulations on European road transport and mobility. The road transport logistics is such a specific field of the world of work, which indicates a job across borders and therefore is affected by a multilevel legislation.

Bartho Pronk added: he is very grateful, that the Seminar is held at such a wonderful a location alongside the Danube in front of the building of the Hungarian Parliament and he thanks for the invitation on behalf of EZA. He is happy to see, that 1/3 of EZA members was representing the event. The topic of road transport is an important issue on the European Union agenda. The discussions of this Seminar can give guidance for drivers and legislators. We have to get rid of the biggest mistakes. The Seminar is held at the best moment.

Three questions were mainly discussed during the Seminar with respect to the legal advice of the ’European Mobility Package’:

  1. Driving and resting times: which common European rules on rest and driving times of truck drivers should be set to keep our roads as safe as possible and to ensure good working conditions? Should it be compulsory for drivers to take their regular weekly rest outside of the cabin? Should employers provide accommodation for their drivers in this case?
  2. Posting of workers and applicable wage: are specific rules for the road transport sector necessary given the highly mobile nature of the work? After how many days on the territory of another Member State should the principle of equal pay for equal work apply to a driver conducting international transport or cabotage?
  3. Letterbox companies: how can the fight against the circumvention of legal obligations, usually in areas like taxation, social security, VAT and wages, be improved (e.g. strengthening enforcement, clearer criteria, enhanced cooperation between national enforcement authorities, …)? The main question on remuneration of work is the problem of posting of workers, such as the question of which Member State’s legislation is the worker affected when working in one of the Member States but originally being employed according to the regulations of another Member State.

The legal question rising from the regulation is whether contractual parties being affected by the regulations of one Member States are obliged to respect those other regulations supposedly arising from the geographical scope. Essentially the contract between the employer and the employee is subject to the regulation of the country where it was contracted. The question raises serious debates within the European Union. The European Commission has launched infringement procedure against Germany and France. The core of the problem is that the mentioned countries require the minimum wage for not only those employees being under the effect of their legislation but also for drivers posted by other Member States. According to the Commission’s position this violates the right of free movement of goods and services. As an effect of the above-described dilemma the overall examination of road transport sector regulations is taking place at a European Union level, where the main question is to provide a balance between the social protection of the employee and supply of services.

In his presentation Mr. János Fónagy state secretary of the Prime Minister’s Governmental Office, former minister for transport and water resources said, that due to the regional consolidation of the Volan-associations in Hungary today two public road transport companies are operating instead of the former 24. Before the regime change the Volan-associations had a mixed profile, as such besides bus passenger transport they possessed a business line in freight transport and taxi – passenger transport. At this area the number of employees was around 60.000 people. After the almost three decades of consolidation and rationalisation the number of employed decreased under 20.000 people. The biggest challenge of nowadays is expectedly the formation of the common railway and bus timetables scheduled for the end of next year. Besides he highlighted the importance of the previous wage agreement and social dialogue and the further alignment of wages.

Mr. Szabolcs Takács state secretary for developing and shaping European Union policies of the Prime Minister’s Office highlighted: there is a deep line of demarcation between the Western and Eastern European countries, for that a great example is the debate arisen from the Posting Directive, which became as sensitive as the topic of migration. The Visegrad countries are expressing their solid opinion even louder; recently they gave their opinion on the economically harmful, for Western European countries protectionist Posting Directive. He underlined, that the proposals given by the Commission are not supporting the situation of posted workers but it is aiming to exclude the Central-Eastern European workers and companies from the Western European markets. Based upon it is not surprising, that Hungary applied for the elimination of the changes declared last summer on the regulation of posted workers towards the Court of the European Union. Relating to this issue the Hungarian Government has a constant consultation with both the employers and organisations representing workers’ interests, who were agreeing.

The invited legal professionals (Judit Dr. Czuglerné Dr. Ivány vice-president of MOSZ for international and legal matters and Gábor T. Fodor expert at labour law, lawyer) besides presenting the newest tendencies within the European Union legislation affecting road transport workers explained that the regulation of working and rest time of drivers is extremely complicated regarding the three separable sets of rules being very much compound itself giving a wide scope for the collective bargaining.

With considerable interest the participants of the Seminar were discussing the above-described topics from which they were able to take a deeper look into the specific legislations and problems emerging in practice of the represented countries, which were discussed after each presentation.

Carlos Viegas Vitorino from „Cifotie” said: there have forced a new collective agreement in the sector. As so drivers doing un- and uploading of the transported goods at once need to possess a contract regulating these tasks. The collective agreement does not allow the transgression of overwork above 60 hours per week and 48 hours per month. Although it resulted from an extremely long process of negotiations it is very hard to keep track on the implementation and control of its execution in practice.

One of their main problems is, that Portugal is located at the border of the continent, they need to drive thousands of kilometres. “The sailors of blacktop road” are spending a lot of time away from their families. They have as well the problem of time spent apart from the home country and the protection of personal goods on the agenda: goods, fuel and personal belongings are stolen. The situation is getting more and more severe, therefore drivers are spending the night in their cabins. They are aware of the phenomenon being illegal, but since the protection / security in parking lots lacks, they are forced to do so. The question of retiring age is important. Today it is on the agenda of politicians, which is a positive sign. It is as much important, that the President of Portugal made a journey between Lisbon and Porto to see how drivers ‘live’ and what professional problems emerge. Trade unions are aware that equal working time conditions are impossible to be provided. The Portugal Government’s opinion is that road transport workers cannot get one single answer to their problems within the country, only a European Union striving after equal rights and opportunities could be a solution; this present cooperation serves this idea.

Cesar Rodriguez from Spain said that the competition is strong and costs are paid from the salaries of employees. It is common, that drivers work 25 days straight, they do not return home within this time and are not able to eat warm food. It has to be reviewed. Before, drivers earned more and were better handled. Being exposed to the weather, self-hygiene and robbery is constant. How can this profession be attractive? Maybe the solution could be that the drivers are entrepreneurs?

Veselina Starcheva (Podkrepa CL.) explained, that Bulgarian drivers do not want to be forced to sleep in a hotel room. There are some, who wish to stay in their cars, because they feel safer there. There is a debate around this issue. There is no showering possibility, no toilette. It is important to mention, that drivers of different countries have other living standards and needs. Bulgarian drivers have different possibilities, than for instance Spanish drivers. Besides, we are talking about adults who can make decisions on their own lives. They wish to have a decent life, but if they cannot afford it, they are simply not doing it. These costs need to be taken by the employers. Do they know that drivers need to pee in plastic bottles, because there are no toilettes available?

Ferenc Baranyai from Road Transport Trade Union, Hungary: with the Mobility Package, the European Union cut off more than one can chew. Differences are great. In case of passenger transport according to timelines it happens, that driver cannot stop despite of the sign of the tachograph in order to avoid delayed arrival at further stops. They believe that timeline driven passenger transport would need specific regulation.

Italian colleagues explained that drivers were diagnosed with psychophysical diseases after medical examinations: joint and spine diseases. Even though modern technology exists, it can only provide limited solution. One’s life cannot really be restricted into one single vehicle. Trade unions need to be flexible, if drivers could choose, they would not pick to stop and pee behind the wheels. You do not need to see the job itself, but the people doing the job, their interest are the ones need to be taken into account. In Post-Soviet countries daily fee is regarded as an income and costs are not taken into it. Until wages do not fall in line with those in Western Europe the drivers are motivated to save on expenditure and it is difficult to reach consensus.

Imre Palkovics added: the dilemma for Eastern-European countries is that we wish to ameliorate working conditions, but another aspect is the competitiveness of employing companies providing these circumstances. Companies go bankrupt if costs increase. Eastern-European companies are under a lot of pressure. We have to see it clearly, that Eastern-European companies fail due to the lack of equity compared to their Western-European competitors.

Mara Erdelj the president of the Serbian SS Bofos raised the question: if regulations are not clear how can we guarantee that legal frameworks are kept? This is a major legislative problem. The principal responsibility goes to the legislator. They should be obliged to make obvious regulations. Introductions and Preambulum before Directives and the decisions of the European Court are important. It is not available in case of the new regulation