As part of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Economic and Social Council of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg organised a conference on the theme of "Road transport: social dumping and integration of cross-border infrastructure" on 11 and 12 October 2015.
Social dumping in the road transportation sector took centre stage during the first day, as did the measures that the European Commission should publish by the end of 2016 within the framework of a legislative review of the "Road Package".At the request of the Luxembourg Presidency, the EESC had adopted by September 2015 its exploratory opinion entitled: "The internal market of international road freight: social dumpinng and cabotage".
In this opinion, the EESC urges the Commission to fight against social dumping, regretting that this concept is not yet defined. The EESC puts forward the following definition: practices that endeavour to circumvent or are in breach of social market access regulations (letterbox companies) in order to gain competitive advantages.
The Minister for Infrastructure, François Bausch stressed that the concept of social dumping is "extensively used" without having a legal definition at European level. And this despite the fact that "social issues in road transport have posed problems for many years in the road transport sector" and that these problems have "a tendency to multiply".
As for the President of the Council of Transport Ministers, François Bausch called on the Commission to "demonstrate a sense of compromise in view of the legislative review" and to avoid making the legislation more complicated. According to the Minister, more legislation is not necessary, rather there needs to be better enforcement of legislation in force.
The Minister believes that a European solution is necessary for the social aspects in road transport as well as to "reduce the potential differences which may arise, as the challenges to overcome have a European dimension". François Bausch is aware that it is necessary for there to be a "common effort from all the Member States and co-legislators to ensure that transportation plays its part in economic growth and job creation in the EU".
Often unacceptable or unsuitable working conditions
The Minister pointed that a political debate on social conditions in the road transport sector is scheduled to be held during the meeting of the Transport Council on 10 December 2015, with the aim of offering Ministers the chance to present their policy ideas and suggestions to the Commission, prior to the publication of the Road Package. François Bausch insisted that this debate will exclusively focus on the social aspects in road transport, as he considers that a distinction must be made between aspects in the road sector and those in the air sector, the two debates being "very different".
The debate will focus on the living and working conditions of workers in the sector (and therefore the attractiveness of jobs) as well as on the impact of these working conditions on competitiveness between operators and between the road and rail transport industries.
François Bausch, for whom social issues are "crucial", highlighted "the strong relationship between safety and working conditions" which, according to him, are unacceptable or unworthy. As lorry drivers are often tired, under-paid and generally exposed to poor working conditions, they constitute not only a danger to themselves, but also for other road users, he explained.
To illustrate the problem, François Bausch mentioned the fatal accident in Luxembourg the day before involving an independent Romanian haulier who was driving a lorry registered in Spain. This can also constitute an economic obstacle, given the traffic jams that an accident like this can cause, he added.
The Minister called for solutions to be found not only in the area of transport, but also in the area of labour law and social security. He also urged for the discussions not to be limited to the transport sector. Jobs in road transport must be quality jobs which allow employees to live with dignity and be close to their families, he believes.
François Bausch pointed out the interest generated by this debate among the European public, in reference to the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) for equal working conditions in the transport sector, launched in September 2015 by the European Transports Federation (ETF), and called on stakeholders to consider the results.
Controls should not stop at the border
Jutta Steinruck, MEP (S&D) and member of the Commission for Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), criticised the fragmentation of the labour market which is regulated by 28 different legislations, a "failure in the system", according to her. She has called for clear common regulation at the European level and criticised the fact that national controls often stop at the border. As a result, many transport companies "do not expect any controls".
She called for opportunities offered by digital technology to be seized, as the big problem, according to her, is the absence of an exchange of information between Member States. Effective controls and severe penalties could improve the situation, she said. Jutta Steinruck also condemned the competitive pressure and levelling between transport companies as well as independent hauliers who would find it difficult to make ends meet and would work under conditions of slavery. A transport company which respects the rules and pays its employees well may struggle to stay competitive, she added.
Stefan Back, member of the EESC and rapporteur of the opinion, mentioned the "difficult task" of finding a definition of social dumping, reporting "frustrations" from "new" Member States which feel according to him "attacked" when they have a "different cost structure" and they conform to the rules.
Summarising the EESC opinion, Stefan Back insisted on the need to improve the execution of social legislation and legislation concerning road transport. The opinion calls, amongst other things, to urgently implement the interconnection of national registers to help the European Register of Road Transport (ERRT), which should have been in place in December 2012, in order to improve cross-border application and cooperation between Member States.
Stefan Back also highlighted the need to simplify and clarify the relative provisions for access to the market, notably for cabotage which would allow a simpler application of the regulations. He specifically criticised the fact that the definition of a cabotage operation differs from one Member State to another. The member of the EESC also criticised the unilateral measures taken by certain Member States which would risk "impeding the functioning of the internal market", or even fragment it.
The Commission wants to ensure a better exchange of information between Member States
Eddy Liegeois, Head of the "Land Transport" Unit of DG Mobility and Transport of the European Commission, mentioned that controls by national authorities is a "key issue". According to him, the Commission considers it "important to provide mechanisms to ensure the exchange of information between Member States for national supervisors to request information from the supervisory authorities of another Member State". The Commission is collecting information and ideas to carry out an impact study before presenting results at the end of 2016, he clarified. According to him, the Commission has three objectives: eliminating obstacles to the internal market and ensuring equal competition as well as adequate working conditions.
For Eddy Liegeois, the concept of social dumping is sometimes "poorly utilised". If the definition proposed by the EESC represents a "good compromise", the European official believes the most important thing is to have clear regulation in all areas (such as access to the profession, access to the market and even working hours) and to ensure the correct application of these rules in all Member States. Like Stefan Back, Eddy Liegeois condemned all unilateral measures, judging that these could lead to inefficiency, and could even be counter-productive.