Wednesday, 4 March 2020

The EU doesn't care about labour rights, fair competition or sustainability.

Though a hard Brexit has serious ramifications for the haulage industry, a lot of truckers are still in favour of it. They are angered by the unfair competition based on exploitation. The International Transport Workers Federation is working with its unions in Europe to expose the hidden shame of Europe’s road transport industry. Drivers from Eastern Europe are brought to Western Europe to drive, they receive an hourly wage as low as EUR1.70, they have to sleep in the cab of the truck for up to eight months at a time, they wash and cook in car parks, they have limited access to toilet facilities, and are given fake papers to evade authorities. All the while they transport goods for some of the most successful and profitable multi-national companies in the world.

The ITF has it that: 
Mass exploitation and inhumane working conditions are rife within the European road transport sector. Companies eager to make a profit at any cost take advantage of the high demand for road transport. They charge large multi-nationals a decent price for operating their supply chains, but the money paid for the service is not fairly distributed to the drivers carrying out the work. 
Instead the transport operators use loopholes to underpay their workers, taking drivers from Eastern Europe on Eastern European contracts and using them to drive exclusively in Western Europe. This business model means they are able to pay low wages and social security contributions, while taking advantage of the right for EU members to work all over Europe. 
Most of the drivers come from Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine and receive gross wages of between EUR310 and EUR375 a month. This is equivalent to an hourly wage of between EUR1.76 and EUR2.13 (assuming that a working day lasts eight hours and that there is an average of 22 working days in a month). To disguise the fact the drivers are paid under minimum wage the drivers also receive a net payment of EUR58 as a per diem. This daily allowance is paid as a lump sum and sits outside the basic wage - as a result no social security is paid on it. For example, pension contributions are only based on the EUR300 (approx) basic pay, making it very hard for drivers to retire.
There are several regulations on this, not least the dreaded Posted Workers Directive but the ITF says European regulations are ineffective protection without proper enforcement from member states who show little appetite for increasing resources to properly police the rules. Even in countries like France, where more strict checks are carried out, these rogue transport operators simply issue fake documents to deceive the authorities. French law requires that if you work in France you are paid the French minimum wage, but drivers are issued false paperwork to show the French authorities that they are earning French wages - when they are not. While clearly illegal, the drivers do as they are told for fear of losing their job.

As an attempt to correct this the EU has set about its latest mobility package which, unsurprisingly is opposed by nine EU member states. Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Cyprus, Malta and Estonia made their positions clear in Brussels. They see it as a protectionist measure designed for rival freight companies in Western Europe. Which is it. And why shouldn't it be?

On 11 December, though, a preliminary agreement was reached between the Commission, the Parliament and the EU Council on the so-called Mobility Package. Under the deal, new strict rules will apply:
  • Truck drivers will be obliged to sleep in a hotel after the first 6 nights of sleep in the cabins.
  • Truck divers will be required to return to their country of registration once every 4 weeks, regardless of where the driver is located.
  • Trucks will have to return to the country where the company is based at least once every 8 weeks.
Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania opposed the changes, which Eastern EU countries now name the “Macron package” after the French President, who was one of the driving forces behind the proposal. One of their strongest arguments is the climate impact that the new measures will entail. At a time when the European Commission is promoting its Green Deal, thousands of empty trucks will have to cross Europe in order to comply with the revamped rules, critics argue. The Bulgarian minister also said that his country would take the EU to court as soon as the new legislation is published in the Official Journal, possibly in July.

I'm not actually remotely surprised to see climate dogma deployed to underpin mass exploitation. It's just another strand of hypocrisy. Not forgetting, of course, what is often in these trucks. Remainers lament the loss of season fruit and veg oblivious to the human suffering that underpins their lunchtime sarnie.

2011, a news report in The Guardian said that more than 100,000 workers toil away inside greenhouses along the Spanish coast, many living in “inhuman" slums and labouring in the chemical stew. The report noted:
  • “Migrant workers from Africa living in shacks made of old boxes and plastic sheeting, without sanitation or access to drinking water.
  • Wages that are routinely less than half the legal minimum wage.
  • Workers without papers being told they will be reported to the police if they complain.
  • Allegations of segregation enforced by police harassment when African workers stray outside the hothouse areas into tourist areas."
The growth in greenhouses started in the late 1970s as a local response to an economic opportunity to provide vegetables to the European marketplace. The transformed landscape has also transformed the economy from a land of farmers struggling in dry rocky soil in the 1970s to an economy of extremely wealthy greenhouse owners. By 2004 (when the single market was fully established), thousands of small landowners had turned their entire property - every square inch - into greenhouse farms as the vegetables started appearing in grocery stores and restaurants across the European continent, especially in the UK and also in Paris. In the 2000s, immigrants from Africa—many with no legal papers—were shipped in by the hundreds per boatload to work in the plastic greenhouses.

From this you can draw your own conclusions, but one thing is abundantly clear. Remainers say they care about labour rights, fair competition, the environment and sustainability but the evidence says they don't. Perhaps it is we who should be demanding more stringent level playing field provisions of the EU. If eco dogma is the EU's excuse to exploit truck drivers, undercutting our own, to ship their blood soaked produce to our shores, perhaps it's time for a little protectionism until they meet our standards.

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