Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Dissent Across Europe as Road Haulage Drivers and Transport Unions Protest to European Parliament

Whilst Britain Looks at Brexit Conundrum All Appears Not Well Over the Channel
Shipping News Feature
UK – EUROPEAN UNION – Whilst the eyes and ears of the British media are firmly fixed on more tortuous Brexit debates, it might for a moment take a look across the Channel to see the wave of dissent which is currently sweeping the EU with regard to the satisfaction of transport workers, and particularly the way individual states are dealing with their 'equal partner' nation status.

Today (27 March) separate demonstrations are scheduled both for EU headquarters in Brussels and Strasbourg. In Belgium the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) has a demonstration scheduled regarding its Fair Transport for Europe campaign in which it catalogues a raft of items with which it is dissatisfied.

The demonstration completes a series of actions across the continent in a week of protests the ETF says included convoys, river trips, night trains, youth journeys and port blockades. The matters raised are manifold and include so-called chaos at Ryanair, battles over Uber, trucking abuse scandals, creeping automation, rail privatisation and human trafficking on river cruises.

The overall picture the union crusade paints is one in which Europe’s 10+ million transport workers face worsening wages and conditions and the ETF says the EU is letting workers down when it should be ensuring a more social Europe with fair, well-enforced rules and a strong right to collective negotiation, action against gender-based violence at work, a humane approach to automation throughout logistics and access to reliable, affordable public transport for every citizen.

Meanwhile, the demonstration in Strasbourg sums up what is for many people in the road haulage industry, and indeed the wider logistics sector, all that is wrong with current EU policy. Bulgarian and Romanian truck drivers are protesting before the European Parliament building against the Mobility Package, which the workers feel is a direct attack on the principles of the European Union pledge. This follows similar demonstrations in Brussels in January which included Hungarian, Polish and Lithuanian drivers.

With objectors calling it the ‘Macron package’ amongst the rules is a mandatory return of foreign drivers to their country of origin when they are required to take a monthly rest. Czech and Croatian drivers are also annoyed at the regulations and the move is viewed as protectionism with countries such as France, Belgium and Germany deliberately hampering the Eastern European states whose drivers earn far less, but with a lower cost of living back home.

As with so many transport related matters there are two sides, with some parties saying that the western European attitudes will result in a raising of the salary bar for the poorer economies. The Transport and Tourism (TRAN) committee is due to meet on April 11 with an exchange of views scheduled with Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc, who herself hails from Slovenia, on policy achievements and future prospects for transport.

Dissenting voices say it would be more appropriate to wait and hear what is said and a full review published after the new Parliament convenes, before the matter can go further, but if the agreement of the Package in January was meant to have improved things in the transport sector it seems to have produced the opposite effect for some.