The Labour Court of Hasselt, Belgium, awarded seven Bulgarian drivers an equal pay for their work at the Limburg transport company RMT. The firm is now obliged to pay to the Bulgarians the amount of 236,000 euros with interest and costs of court proceedings. It is an important precedent in the fight against „social dumping” and „letterbox companies” – informs the Belgian Transport and Logistics Association.

The case began in June 2015, when the Belgian Transport Federation (BFT) was authorized by seven Bulgarian drivers to file a complaint against RMT.  The final judgment was delivered on October 11. Bulgarians appealed to the employer because of unfair earnings.

Profit at the expense of drivers

The truckers were employed by a subsidiary of a Belgian company registered in Bulgaria under the name Rematry. Although they carried out transport orders in Belgium, they received a remuneration of 414 levs (about 211 euros per month). The labor court found that the Bulgarian branch of the company was founded only to pay lower wages and allowances to employees for work done in another country.  It was a perfect example of the so-called „letterbox company” methods of operation that Western companies use to reduce employee expenses.

In this case, the drivers signed contracts with the Bulgarian company Rematry, but they received orders directly from RMT based in Belgium. After three and a half years of fighting, the Belgian labour court found that the actual employer was RMT. Consequently, the terms of employment were covered by Belgian labour law.

The 7 drivers received no less than 236,000 euros in total. For one of them we claimed 111,000 euros, for another 97,000 euros. The five others were not employed as long at RMT, and for them the claim was much lower. Since RMT did not contest these claims, the requested amounts were automatically awarded, increased by interest and litigation costs,” comments Frank Moreels, head of the Belgian Transport Federation.

This is just the tip of the iceberg

The case of the Bulgarians lasted for over three years, among others, because the Belgian employer used delaying tactics. In addition, a social inspection was involved in the proceedings, which had to examine exactly who issued the orders to the drivers, how they were paid, and where they spent 45 hours of rest. All findings were in favor of the drivers.

From the wording of the interlocutory judgement of 26 July of last year, it appeared that the employer was in the wrong across the board. This judgement therefore does not come as a surprise to the BFT. I would like to thank the inspectorate for its thorough investigation, which led to this judgement. We are convinced that this is a first domino that fell, and that many more will follow. This is a decisive step in the fight against social dumping!” adds Moreels.

The Belgian union admits that this is the best way to fight „social dumping” and dishonesty of Western companies towards Eastern European drivers.

Bulgarian drivers got what they were entitled to. This of course is also in the interests of Belgian drivers, since it eliminates unfair competition. The principle of “equal pay for equal work” was confirmed here by the court,” emphasizes BFT.

Editor’s comment

The verdict in favor of Bulgarian drivers gives hope that such practices will no longer be tolerated. If the representatives of the transport industry in Belgium themselves admit that the case of RMT is not a single phenomenon –  it is a sign that the industry is aware of the issue. The problem of „social dumping” has so far been identified with the activities of carriers from Central and Eastern Europe. This was strongly expressed in the speeches of Western European politicians, who saw the competitors from the new EU countries as the cause of all evil. They did not want to see that the phenomena on the transport market are more complex. It can even be said that they closed their eyes to the practices of companies from their countries, which used cheaper labor from the east, to run business in their own backyard while avoiding paying their minimum wages and social contributions. Suffice it to mention that the report on the condition of the transport sector in Belgium, developed by the Research Institute for Work and Society at the Catholic University of Leuven, disproved several stereotypes about „unfair” competition from the east. Because, as the researchers have proved, the biggest problem in the transport industry are the „letterbox companies.” Not – as politicians from Paris would like to see it – Eastern European carriers. Belgium is a country that, like Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom, is in the group of countries from which most „letterbox companies” originate. May the verdict of the Belgian court, as well as publications showing the actual image of Western transport, be noticed by politicians and change their attitude.

Photo: iStock

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