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“Dear Drivers, due to the spread of COVID-19 (…) we are reducing costs in all areas of our business. For this reason, since April 14th we are reducing allowances for all drivers,” this is the message all truckers employed in the company received. The information provoked an outburst of fury and threats of strike from the drivers. 

A few days ago, all drivers of the well-known Lithuanian carrier Girteka Logistics received the bad news about allowance cuts “due to the danger caused by COVID-19”. The company stated that the reason for this decision is that “a large number of customers have stopped sending shipments, so factories and warehouses have started to close across Europe, Russia and Scandinavia and unemployment has started to rise”.  The message also states that the current main objective of the carrier is “ the trucks are on the move and always have a load to carry”.

“For this reason, we take cheaper loads, reduce transport prices and reduce costs in all areas of our business. One day, the crisis will be over. In order for us all to survive until then, from April 14th we are reducing the allowances for all drivers. We guarantee that the amount of the allowances will not be less than the minimum acceptable rate set by the authorities,” this is Girteka’s message, which the drivers employed by the company received on their tablets and phones. As a result, the drivers’ allowance was reduced to €53 per day with a monthly mileage of 12,000 km.

This is not the end of the bad news – as it turned out, the company also wants to punish drivers for excessive fuel consumption. As the drivers comment, the company wants to deduct money for “excess combustion” even in cases where the reason is extended routes resulting from detours due to road repairs.

Girteka trucks will stop

The reaction of the drivers was predictable. On the popular Viber messenger a group was formed, calling the drivers to strike. At present, the group has over 6,800 members.

“We’re in a vulnerable group in second place to  physicians. They should increase our pay, not cut it!”, “In Canada, they added €550 to drivers income for risk, rather than cut it. When the situation was good, why was Girteka paying us €66, while the Germans offered €90?”, “It’s ridiculous, we should get less for driving to infected areas?” These and other angry comments have been posted in the group for several days.

But not everyone condemns Girteka’s decision. Some members of the group refer to common sense.

“Have you heard of demand and supply? Due to the virus, the number of factories and plants opened has decreased and the number of drivers has not changed. Thus, supply remained at the same level and demand fell, and so did cargo prices, because now there are not two carriers per one freight, but 10. This is why some drivers are sent on holiday and others have their salaries cut. You mentioned Canada (…), only that the state pays there, not the company,” Valentin comments. Anatoly, on the other hand, adds that “this is the situation in every company, and the carriers only have to think about how to keep the company”.

What would a driver strike consist of?The strike would be about stopping and showing that they, the drivers, are the most important link in the supply chain. “Any truck stoppage is a loss to the company. A thousand vehicles stopping – it’s a disaster,” comment the main agitators, calling for a protest.

Yevgeny, one of the leaders of the “revolution”, as the drivers call the actions, said that the planned stoppage is to take place on Monday, April 20 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. “What are we doing all this for? So that there is no deduction for fuel, so that wages at the level of €65-68 per day are reinstated,” comments Yevgeny.

Our demands are very simple: restitution of what has been taken from us. First of all, the return of remuneration to all drivers, working in all the company’s truck parks, all crews and trainees. Second, putting an end to unjustified deductions for fuel,” said Andrei, one of the founders of the group on Viber, in an interview with Trans.INFO. 

What does Girteka say?

Girteka, as well as the world economy as a whole, is very much affected by the crisis. The number and prices of transports are falling. We do not cut drivers’ salaries, but only temporarily reduce allowances, not exceeding the standards specified in the Act,” says Kristian Kaas Mortensen, spokesperson for Girteka Logistics, in an interview with Trans.INFO.

The company points out that this is not the only crisis situation in its history. Currently, the anti-crisis plan is based on suspending new recruitments and “reducing all unnecessary costs”. How long will these reductions last? No one knows. 

Like most companies in Europe, we need to make budget adjustments. We live in a time of constant change and cannot predict how long the crisis will last. And although we remain optimistic, we are prepared for the worst-case scenario,” comments Kristian Mortensen.

What the scenario is and whether the reduced daily allowance will be restored in the future – the company does not say. Nor does it say why 12,000 of its employees were not informed about upcoming changes in advance.

We only made some adjustments in the amount of allowances, but we did not change drivers’ salaries. Such changes do not require signing new employment contracts,” the company’s spokesperson answers the question about legal formalities.

What will Girteka do if drivers really stop their trucks?

We’re in talks with the drivers about this. We explain why such actions are necessary in the era of COVID-19 pandemic. None of the drivers are on strike at the moment, all the trucks are in motion. Many drivers understand this and support our decision. They simply understand how critical the situation is,” says the company representative.

The spokesperson does not want to give a more detailed answer to the question. It is also unclear what happens in the case of losses that may occur due to delays in delivery.

Carriers’ collusion?

Road transport is the sector which is usually the first to be affected by economic recession. Girteka is not the only Lithuanian company that has decided to make such savings. According to many drivers, other Lithuanian companies have also done this. 

It’s taking advantage of the situation, not a crisis,” comments one of the drivers. “The Lithuanian giants came to an agreement and together they reduced drivers’ allowances, thereby  motivating it with the need to look for savings. Anyway, everything is legal – the new allowances do not exceed the rates shown in the legislation.”

“Girteka has not been affected by the crisis as much as other companies. 75% of our fleet are refrigerated trucks, thanks to which the recession has affected us less than carriers owning mainly tarpaulin trucks. Nevertheless, our actions are dictated by the good of the company,” states Kristian Mortensen.

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