Edition 30 November, by Phoebe Dodds
One of the benefits of a country being a member of the European Union is that its citizens receive certain rights in other EU countries. This benefit can be seen in the agreement that EU member states recently reached on the issue of equal work for equal pay. After extensive debates, the member states finally decided that from 2021, workers in the EU must be paid the salary of the country in which they are working. In practical terms, this means that a Polish painter working in the Netherlands must be paid the same as a Dutch painter. Currently, employers have been able to pay foreign workers the same wage as they would receive in their home country, which for many Eastern European countries is considerably lower than in countries like Germany and France. The new law was brought in to create a fairer playing field and ensure that workers from certain EU member states were not being taken advantage of by employers looking to cut costs.
Not everyone wins
However, there is one group who is not set to benefit from the new law: long-distance truck drivers. This is because the industry is complicated to legislate, due to the fact that the drivers are constantly on the move. The country in which they work changes day by day, and legislators have as yet not found a way to account for this unique situation. As many spokespeople for long-distance truck drivers have brought to the attention of the European Parliament, this issue should be addressed urgently, as there are other problems within this sector that jeopardise the health and safety of the drivers, as well as their basic human rights.
Recent research conducted in The Netherlands has shown that this country is particularly bad at monitoring the working conditions of long-distance truck drivers. The Surveillance and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) has stated that around 400 transport companies in the country are guilty of unfair competition, which can manifest in a number of ways. First, some companies commit fraud relating to the drivers’ rest periods. In the EU, drivers are required by law to take a certain number of rest hours when driving long distances, and these rest hours cannot be spent in the truck itself. However, some companies have been found guilty of illegally adjusting the data to provide themselves with a competitive advantage in the market. Furthermore, some Dutch companies register themselves in other countries like Romania, so they are able to pay their drivers the fas lower Romanian wage, even though their drivers operate in The Netherlands.
One person who suffers from this situation is Mihai, a Romanian truck driver who has a Dutch boss. He earns only €235 per month, much less than his Dutch counterparts who are doing the exact same job. This is because under current Romanian law, Mihai can be paid the minimum wage in Romania, despite working in The Netherlands. As a result, he has to live in his truck while he saves money to send home to his wife and daughter. A number of high profile spokespeople from the industry have spoken out against this form of “modern-day slavery”, as Frederic Martin of the federal road police calls it. Now, if transport companies are found breaking the rules, the employers will receive a fine of €1800.
Working together for solutions
The abuse of drivers’ rights is set to change when the new law comes into practice in 2021: even though truck drivers are currently not covered, transport spokespeople in Brussels are aggressively lobbying for legislators to protect the drivers. Monitoring transport companies is also important for market regulation , allowing Dutch companies to get away with paying their workers very low wages unfairly affects the companies in Germany, France and Belgium who are adhering to the strict EU laws on fair pay.
In another move to better protect long-distance truck drivers, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg have decided to merge their inspection services in the transport sector, to exchange data about violations of laws and help each other monitor rest periods. The mood in the European Parliament is also leaning towards including truck drivers in the new 2021 law, and a number of high profile figures think that the law will not come into practice without including this group of workers. Finally, the upcoming social affairs summit in Sweden will be a chance for government leaders of EU member states to further discuss the issue of ensuring the basic rights of all EU workers are protected.