Photo: Girteka

“We are friends with Polish drivers, ” assures new head of Girteka in Poland

The Polish branch of Girteka has been operating since 2019. It currently employs approximately 6,000 drivers and 400 mechanics. Despite this, the percentage of employees who are Polish citizens is small. How does Remigiusz Sawicki, the new head of the Polish transport giant's branch, explain it?

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Dorota Ziemkowska-Owsiany: What does Girteka’s transport network look like and what place does the Polish branch and the transport base in Sady occupy in it?

Remigiusz Sawicki, director of the transport operations department in Poland: Transport operations performed by Girteka are based on the operation of two main bases – one is located in Lithuania in Siauliai, the other near Poznań, in Sady. The role of the latter is significant, mainly due to its very good location. The main communication routes intersect here – S5, S11, A2 motorway. Thanks to this, we have very good connections with the south and north of the country and with Lithuania.

The purpose of creating this base was to improve Girteka’s expansion possibilities to all European markets, and expansion was economically justified, as it would be more costly to expand from Lithuania.

The main role of the base in Sady is to prepare our fleet of vehicles and trailers to provide transport services in Europe. The next task is to service drivers and carry out the final stage of their employment. This is where we take care of drivers until they obtain all the permits, certificates and qualifications required to drive heavy vehicles in Europe.

The Polish branch currently employs approximately 6,000 drivers and 400 mechanics. What percentage of these employees are Polish citizens?

I won’t lie – a small percentage – less than ten. Most of our drivers and employees in general come from Eastern Europe and Asian countries.

So I see that nothing has changed – last year I talked to the then managing director Ellina Lolis, who gave a similar percentage result.

I can immediately explain why this is happening. We know well that there are significant shortages of qualified drivers on the European market. Most transport companies are looking for employees not only outside their own country, but also outside the European Union. Hence, almost half of our drivers come from Belarus, the rest from Asia, mainly Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. However, we are also looking for employees, e.g. in India and the United Arab Emirates, and even in Africa.

But why is it so difficult to encourage Polish drivers to cooperate with Girteka? The Polish branch has been operating since 2019, so there has been some time to make friends.

We are friends with Polish drivers. However, I think that the main obstacle is that Girteka, due to the scale of its operations, needs a lot of employees. And so many are not available on the domestic market. We are not the only ones who have a problem with this – during the last TLP conference in Katowice, carriers admitted that today most of their employees come from the East. Polish drivers also work in transport companies, but there are simply fewer of them on the market.

It’s not everything. The Polish road transport market is highly fragmented. Most of them are micro-enterprises in which the owner has one or two cars and sits behind the wheel himself. Polish drivers primarily work in their own family businesses.

So, as I understand it, drivers prefer to run their own businesses in Poland, and therefore have to deal with the bureaucracy associated with it and have to pay taxes, rather than be employed by yourselves.

It seems to me that drivers operating in their own micro-enterprises feel very comfortable in the role of the owner and head of the company.

Moreover, they constitute quite serious competition for large enterprises, e.g. Girteka. They have greater flexibility and respond to orders faster. There are areas where a large company cannot undertake transport, but micro-entrepreneurs are very willing to take over such orders.

Recently, Girteka branches were established in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to help recruit drivers. Will these drivers  also work from the Polish branch?

Yes, the branches in Bishkek and Almaty will also constitute the main base of the recruitment process for the Polish branch. Girteka focuses on independent recruitment, so we do not cooperate very often with external organizations providing employees.

Tomasz Weber, head of corporate communications at Girteka, listening to the conversation: The mentioned branches are also very important from the point of view of verifying drivers’ skills. Today we focus on recruiting experienced drivers. However, this does not mean that we do not verify skills. This is what the aforementioned branches do. The experience of foreign drivers is related to the specificity of the local market and may not meet the requirements applicable in the European Union.

How long does it take to recruit a Polish driver from abroad to the branch?

We need about 6 weeks from the candidate’s arrival at the Polish branch until the employee is ready to start his first trip. It is not done alone, but always with an experienced trainer or instructor. During these 6 weeks, we provide the new driver with accommodation, transport to the base, etc. Generally, during this time he is still under our care.

6 weeks to prepare an experienced driver to hit the roads of the European Union. What is happening during this time?

During this time, first of all, official residence and work permits for these people are organised. We also conduct a whole set of training courses related to the specific nature of work at Girteka, for example eco-driving, which, as we know, is very important to us because it leads to minimizing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. We also provide safety training, including cargo safety, in accordance with TAPA requirements. We also teach the driver how to use our basic route management system.

Tomasz Weber:  To add to the issue of training – many of them concern the rules introduced by the Mobility Package, i.e. rules specific to the European Union. We also train drivers in specific skills, for example driving three-axle tractors. However, the mentioned 6-week period is average. Sometimes it takes less time to introduce a new driver to work at Girteka, or even half a year. Much depends on whether they will be employed in the Polish or Lithuanian branch, because the processes and procedures applicable there are slightly different. Similarly, the paths for obtaining work permits in these countries differ, depending on whether the country in question has signed international agreements regarding the movement of workers from the third countries we are interested in.

When it comes to official matters, from your perspective which country is more open to acquiring drivers from third countries – Poland or Lithuania?



Generally, there are many more transport and logistics companies in Poland, so it can be said that, based on experience, they have already developed mechanisms for working with offices, and they also have developed internal procedures related to recruitment outside Europe. On the other hand, companies such as Girteka are one of the largest employers in Lithuania, distinguished from others by, for example, the amount of taxes paid, hence they can count on the favour of the authorities to some extent.

Apart from the issue of acquiring drivers, one of the biggest challenges facing Girteka is digitalisation. By 2026, you want all processes in the company to be digitised, thanks to SAP in part. What does it look like today?

Two major transformations are currently underway. The first one is related to the implementation of SAP. After Easter, we implemented the part of the system responsible for employee management at the Sady base. The implementation of a module that will control operations inside the base is planned for the second part of the year. All this is related to a complex, extensive process, because currently many operations are supervised by distributed systems, which we need to transfer to one, centralised one.

The second transformation I mentioned is the move from Transics to Fleethand. This process is already underway, but it is also a big challenge because it requires training a much larger group of people than is the case with SAP. This is because every car and every driver will have to be equipped with Fleethand and use it freely.

Moreover, in addition to the previously mentioned tools, we also implement AI Operator and AI Planner, which, using artificial intelligence modules, help in appropriate planning of the route and resources related to its operation. Their use greatly relieves the burden on people who manage transport, because the tools mentioned take into account legal requirements, for example breaks required by law for drivers.

How big a challenge is to find experts who are able to operate and develop tools based on, among others, on artificial intelligence? Industry reports show that finding such employees is not easy, and what’s more, it may turn out that in the near future it will be even more difficult than finding drivers.

Correct. Today it is said that the shortage of drivers reaches nearly 300,000 employees. However, it turns out that the staffing problem also affects the broadly understood IT industry.

At Girteka, we have been preparing for the transformation we have just talked about for a long time. We placed great emphasis on ensuring that departments supporting operations related to the implementation of modern technologies received appropriate training and were reinforced with the necessary specialists even before the actual transformation began. So it seems to me that we have a team that will secure the transformation from a technical point of view.

However, when it comes to the rest of the employees and their training in the use of new systems, the advantage of Girteka is that we employ a lot of young people – the average age is between 25 and 30 years. This is a generation that is on par with broadly understood technology and open to transformation.

The introduction of new technologies is often motivated by ecological reasons. The tool you mentioned, based on artificial intelligence and measuring the efficiency of each truck, is intended, for example, to reduce CO2 emissions. But what happens when the data analysis shows that the driver is not an ecodriving champion? Are there any penalties associated with this?

We try to look at it from a completely different perspective – not to punish drivers for driving unecologically, but to reward them if they achieve good results in ecological driving, for example by granting a discretionary bonus.

We have an internal motivation system that stimulates employees to pay attention to ecodriving. We run the Eco League program, in which drivers compete with each other in eco driving. In addition, we also conduct regular training in this area for both new and experienced employees.

Importantly, after completing the route, the driver always participates in a session during which his guardian assesses how the trip went and shares the results. Total fuel consumption is calculated and all other ecodriving indicators are checked. Of course, drivers have access to this data on an ongoing basis, so they can monitor their behavior on the road, but then the data is analysed.

If the results are poor, the driver is sent for additional training. However, we first of all try to find out the reasons for the employee’s poorer results. Sometimes these are factors beyond the drivers’ control. Let me give you an example – while talking to you, I look out the window and see a huge traffic jam at the entrance to Poznań. A driver who stands in such a traffic jam for 1.5 hours and drives at 5 km/h has no chance of achieving great results in ecodriving. This isn’t his fault though. These types of external random factors vary – e.g. the goods that the driver brings have different weights, and this affects how the vehicle behaves on the route. We take all this into account when assessing the final results.

And do you directly recommend drivers not to drive faster than 82 km per hour?

Our cars are designed in such a way that drivers cannot drive above a certain speed. We are probably the company currently on the market that has the lowest speed setting. Each time, the travel route is planned in such a way that it is as optimal as possible, not only in terms of the time of cargo delivery, but also the carbon footprint that the vehicle will leave behind while driving.

But, of course, you are aware of the emotions these restrictions arouse among Polish drivers? The requirement to drive at a speed of 82 km/h is one of the most common reasons for jokes and Girteka’s low rating. I’ll tell you straight – drivers call your trucks ‘zawaddróg’. If we add to this the fact that an overtaking ban for trucks was recently introduced in Poland, it is easy to guess what emotions other drivers experience when suddenly your truck appears in front of us and it is impossible to overtake it.

Tomasz Weber: We analysed it. Today, in nearly 52% of European Union countries, the speed limit for trucks is 80 km/h. In Poland, we are often called zawalidrogy, but we must remember that today on highways and expressways in our country, trucks cannot drive faster than 80 km/h.

82 km/h, which we internally considered the maximum speed, results from economic calculations and related ecological aspects. This is also important to us because we cooperate with clients for whom environmental protection and sustainable development are important.

Customers require not only the application of ecodriving principles, but also the use of an ecological fleet. How does Girteka respond to these requirements?

Due to our size, we cooperate with all manufacturers and are a significant source of information for them about the everyday use of vehicles and their technical aspects. We participate in tests of trucks, both powered by alternative fuel and electricity.

What we will focus on in the future will depend primarily on the direction in which the transport market will evolve. And this, in turn, will be the result of the requirements of the European Union. Today, the EU clearly indicates that the direction of development is to be the electrification of transport. However, the entire transport industry is aware that there is no infrastructure that would be able to handle these vehicles on international routes. And building such infrastructure will not be easy.

This is illustrated by an example from the United States – where a carrier recently approached an energy company with a request to create a connection to its transport base, where a fleet of nearly 30 electric trucks is stationed. However, the energy company refused – it turned out that the connection capacity would be equal to half of the power consumed by the nearby city. We all need to be aware of these types of problems.

Personally, I believe that the technology for using all alternative fuels, including e.g. biodiesel and hydrogen, should be developed. Unfortunately, EU regulations treat these solutions as transitional.

Coming back to customer requirements – they expect confirmation of the carrier’s compliance with EU changes and goals. We can also present such documents. We cooperate with manufacturers in the use of low- and zero-emission fleets and reduce the carbon footprint thanks to eco-driving. However, the question remains whether transport companies will be able to bear the costs of transformation in the future, without prejudice to their operations. In my opinion, collective responsibility is needed here. Investments related to transport decarbonization concern the entire supply chain and all parties, i.e. customers, regulators, solution providers and carriers, should participate in this together.

Another thing you need to realise when discussing the electrification of transport is the fact that currently only the European Union is focusing on it. The rest of the world benefits from the development of this technology, but electrification is not a priority for them. China, for example, has introduced all long-distance transport to CNG and LNG.

Therefore, automotive manufacturers are already clearly saying that their factories will probably have two product lines. One, aimed exclusively at the European market, will develop electrical technology. The second one, aimed at other markets, will create vehicles using other drives, including traditional diesel.

So we have an area of Europe that is small but would like to decarbonise completely. There are questions in the transportation and automotive industries about the pace and timing of decarbonisation goals. On the other hand, the young generation demands decisive action. All this means that the solution is not that simple.