De Jong supports European lorry drivers’ actions

23 September 2012

De Jong supports European lorry drivers’ actions

SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong will tomorrow express his support for the actions of hundreds of angry lorry drivers from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and France who are together protesting against the evasion of social rights by, amongst others, what are known as ‘box number companies’. This term refers to corporations established in reality in one member state of the European Union, who register in another where tax rates are lower or labour laws laxer. ‘This action comes just at the right time,’ says De Jong, ‘in the light of the threat from European Commission vice-president Sim Kallas to bring forward proposals in the near future for the liberalisation of domestic road transport. That would signal the end for the Dutch transport sector. In addition, we must put a stop to the evasion of collective labour agreements by means of shadowy and illegal constructions. This was confirmed by the Commission earlier in the year in response to my questions. As things stand, supervision and enforcement of these rules is failing.’

According to EU rules drivers employed by foreign firms in the Netherlands must be paid the going rate fixed by Dutch collective labour agreements (CAOs) – equal pay for equal work. Only in cases of what is known as ‘cabotage’ - where a driver has delivered a load from one EU member state to another, the same driver is permitted to pick up a new load and deliver it within the latter country - is it sometimes permissible for foreign companies to pay lower rates. On 21st June, however, Vice-President of the European Commission Sim Kallas received a report from a ‘High Level Group’ recommending that cabotage rules should be loosened and European road transport fully liberalised. ‘Further liberalisation would also mean that domestic road transport would be taken over by Eastern European firms which would increasingly thereby be able to apply Eastern European rules on pensions and social security. Together with the drivers who are conducting this action, the SP wants to ensure that Commissioner Kallas ignores this advice.

During the last few years the FNV, the main trade union federation in the Netherlands, as well as other groups, has taken various actions against unfair competition by means of box number firms which are established in order to evade CAOs. ‘Because these companies are established in other member states, the Netherlands cannot solve this problem on our own,’ explains De Jong. ‘I want therefore to see a centralised collection of data regarding abusive employment bureaux and practices and automatic exchange of these data between the different national labour inspectorates. In addition, member states must recognise administrative sanctions imposed by other member states, and do this over and over again. The abusive firms must be tackled throughout the EU. I also want to see agreements between all EU member states on a just minimum wage and fair conditions of employment in order to counter the exploitation of drivers in countries where they enjoy little protection.’

The European Parliament is at the moment debating the Commission’s proposals for enforcement of the rules. ‘We’re going to try to make them into effective legislation,’ says De Jong, ‘but the proposal as it stands is worthless. Instead of stronger enforcement the Commission wants the member states to adhere to rules which will limit surveillance. This is again clearly the work of the corporate lobby, and the drivers’ interests have been ignored.’

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