Transport rates are rising? There’s no transport space available? Products in shops become more expensive? All this is due to increased controls and a shortage of carriers ready to go to the affected areas. And, just as currently any restrictions are justified and forced by an exceptional situation, transport has been facing a perspective of similar, but bureaucratic restrictions that we impose on ourselves for several years now. The current epidemic is a demo version of what the Posting of Workers Directive and the Mobility Package can lead to.
No, transport hasn’t become more important than usual because of the coronavirus. We are not dealing with an absolutely emergency situation in which it would be necessary to provide, for example, humanitarian aid. Rice, groats, mineral water, toilet paper are still being carried – just regular things, and suddenly so much awaited by customers in shops. Although many factories have reduced their operations, raw materials, components and finished products are still being transported. Free transport is now exactly as important as it always was, only that politicians and officials do not always want to acknowledge it.
Due to these restrictions and additional bureaucracy (e.g. the need to fill in additional documents causes border traffic jams), transport has become much more difficult and some carriers have withdrawn from the most affected countries. Thus, even with decreasing consumption, transport rates are rising, which in turn translates into prices of products on the shop shelves.
No, difficult working conditions are nothing new to drivers. Some people may not be aware of this, but drivers have long been forced to spend the night on the roadside because there are not enough parking lots in Europe. For the same reason, they have always had problems with access to e.g. toilets.
Dear shippers and manufacturers, drivers have always been treated like intruders on ramps and denied access to sanitary facilities and rest areas. Not just now, when there’s a danger of virus spread. The work of drivers has always been relatively dangerous, disrespected and unhealthy. It is not without reason that there is a year-on-year decline in the number of people willing to pursue this profession.
Their salaries are relatively high in relation to the average salaries in their countries, but the problem may be the structure of these salaries which does not protect them sufficiently in case of inability to work. The minimum rates the EU wants to introduce will not be a problem for the majority of fair carriers. A huge problem and cost will be to meet the cumbersome and very complicated bureaucratic conditions, different in each country. This could lead to the bankruptcy of many carriers. It is clear what would then happen to the drivers who are supposed to be protected by these rules.
And carriers? Now, all of a sudden, they’re very much needed and fought for. Now suddenly things are being made easier for businesses and it means taxes or leasing payments can be deferred and controls are more relaxed. But it is the carriers who have to wait 30, 60 or more days for payment while the authorities completely ignore the problem. Under the Mobility Package, they will have to be proficient in the legislation and issues relating to collective agreements, the length of leave in each country their drivers are driving through, they will have to settle this in proportion to the time spent by drivers in those countries and keep records in all those languages.
These are precisely the problems that must be solved in the first place instead of pursuing particular interests in the protection of national markets by hindering free international transport. Now we can see what this could lead to, the coronavirus epidemic has exposed it very well.
“If, for example, Poland closes its borders completely, this will have a direct impact on the supply situation in Germany due to the lack of truck drivers from the neighbouring country,” says Andreas Scheuer, German Minister for Transport and Digital Infrastructure, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Now the same officials who not long ago wanted to force people to take pauses in hotels (even if drivers didn’t want to and there weren’t enough hotels), suddenly loosened the rules of working time, and suddenly found that this driver, whom they supposedly cared about so much in the past – could rest less, and maybe even on the side of the road. Because they are afraid of the crisis.
It is only a matter of time before the rules on cabotage, which is so heavily disapproved by EU officials, are relaxed. Where are the defenders of driver’s rights now, the trackers of imaginary ‘social dumping’? The epidemic will pass, but may this experience be remembered when they return to working on the Mobility Package.