Six out of ten truck drivers see no future in road haulage

11 May 2013

Six out of ten truck drivers see no future in road haulage

Unfair competition, exploitation of foreign workers, and dangerous situations on the road, these are just a selection from the stories included in survey forms on the future of the transport sector completed by some 3000 Dutch truck drivers. ‘In recent years I’ve heard a great deal about the problems faced by truck drivers,’ says SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong, ‘but the outcome of this enquiry is nevertheless shocking. Six out of ten do not believe they will be able to continue to drive trucks for a living, given the problems in the sector.’

Dennis de JongThe broad enquiry was filled in by almost 3000 drivers over a period of six weeks. Questions concerned such matters as the drivers’ financial circumstances, safety on the road, the use of the digital tachograph and the future of the transport sector. ‘Nearly all of the drivers said that they were proud of their work, but that they were at the same time faced with enormous problems. Seven in ten said that their financial position had worsened in recent years. The degree of distress is shown by the support expressed by two-thirds for an extension of the working of the unpopular tachograph by the addition of a location function to prevent misuse.’

The results of the enquiry will be collected into a ‘black book’ which will be presented to European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallas. The Commissioner stated at a recent meeting with De Jong and other MEPs that he was looking forward to seeing this document and accompanying proposals for improvement. ‘As well as the “black book” I’ll be giving him a list of concrete recommendations relating to existing European rules and for possible new standards,’ says De Jong. ‘The rules governing cabotage, for instance’ – the taking of a completely domestic route by a driver from another member state – ‘must be tightened up and certainly not relaxed, as Kallas favoured in the past.’

The drivers were careful to point out in their answers that although many of the problems were linked to competition from eastern European drivers, they did not blame the drivers involved for this, but argued rather for a tougher approach to the firms which often hire them on illegal terms and without regard to the prevailing labour agreements in the sector. Nine out of ten Dutch drivers see massive differences between their remuneration and that of the eastern Europeans. ‘The drivers are confronted on the roads with what is happening to their eastern European colleagues,’ says De Jong. ‘Sometimes the eastern Europeans are forced to wait for days in a layby with too little money to be able to afford to go to the services to get something to eat, which means they have to cook for themselves on the layby. There is sometimes no provision for sanitation on these laybys and if there are any toilets and washrooms they are often broken or filthy as a result of constant use. It’s clear to everyone that these drivers aren’t getting rich.’

The drivers point above all at the numerous forms of false construction used by the abusive firms. ‘One in eight has been given the choice during the last year between the sack or accepting a new contract via an employment agency,’ says De Jong. ‘This is known as the “Cyprus-route”: the drivers are employed by a box number company and from that moment onwards have to put up with much worse working conditions. Social security and pension rights no longer come under the laws of the Netherlands, but those of the state where the employment agency is established. This is illegal, but very little is done about it, in part because such employment agencies aren’t properly registered. By means of a central registration system and a few simple measures, such as insisting that the company in question has parking space for every one of its registered trucks, you could really tackle these practices.’

A quarter of the drivers gave examples of false ‘self-employed’ workers who in reality drive the year round for the same firm and who do not own their own truck. Often, they do not have the required papers. Numerous drivers who took part in the survey named Dutch haulage companies which take advantage of such illegal constructions. ‘It would be good if the labour inspectorate could keep a closer eye on these firms and make more unannounced checks,’ says De Jong. ‘This would require a radical reversal of the Dutch government’s policies, because as things stand we’re still seeing massive cuts in inspections, for example with enforcement contracts which mean that a firm may no longer be obliged to submit to inspection if it’s properly followed the rules for a few years.’

A last point which is causing huge annoyance is the feeling amongst Dutch drivers that they are picked on by the police and fined when abroad because they are known to be able to speak the language and because they pay up promptly. ‘This shouldn’t be happening,’ De Jong says. ‘Fines should be levied because the rules have been broken, irrespective of whether or not it’s going to be easy to collect. So I’d also like to see clear agreements between traffic police services in Europe, that checks must be objective with no discrimination based on the colour of the registration plate.’

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