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13th Apr 2024

MEPs call for end to 'social dumping' in road sector

  • Road companies find it difficult to apply the posted workers rules to their staff, which is highly mobile and can work in several countries on a single day. (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday (18 May) to stop social dumping in the road sector, in a debate that pitches concerns about social equality against the free movement of workers and services.

The parliament was setting out its position ahead of legislative proposals for the so-called mobility package that the European Commission will unveil on 31 May.

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In their resolution, MEPs say the freedom to provide transport services across the EU should not justify violations of the fundamental rights of workers or weaken the existing legislation regarding working conditions, such as resting time or minimum pay.

They asked the commission to eradicate so-called letterbox companies - subsidiaries of richer EU countries that are officially registered in one of the poor member states but do not have any economic activities there - and clarify the rules on cabotage, which is the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country by a transport operator from another country.

MEPs say these "problematic business models" amount to unfair competition, based on the unlawful evasion of labour laws in countries where there is a high level of social protection.

They also said the commission should clarify how the directive applies to road workers and how to improve the enforcement of the rules.

The posted workers directive requires that employees sent to another country for a limited period of time should receive at least the minimal wage of their host country. But road companies find it difficult to apply the rules to their staff, which is highly mobile and can work in several countries on a single day.

The resolution was passed by a show of hands.

It was proposed by the European Parliament's transport committee and backed by left-wing and green MEPs, who said unfair competition from Eastern European workers threatens the whole EU project.

Karima Delli, a French Green MEP who chairs the transport committee, said after the vote that "social dumping … is not only deteriorating working conditions for those in the sector, but also puts the European project at risk."

"That is the reason why the Greens want to see significant improvements to the conditions of workers in the sector, and to end the abuse of posted workers."

Some MEPs in the centre-right EPP group also supported the text.

"The French right is mobilising against social dumping," said French EPP member Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, a co-rapporteur on the revision of the posted workers directive, in a written statement. "This reform is a true symbol against extremists who accuse Europe of savage liberalism. No liberalisation of the road sector before there is social harmonisation between member states."

But MEPs from Eastern Europe were in general critical of the parliament's position.

The conservative ECR group's coordinator in the transport committee, Latvia's Roberts Zile, said it would "erode the EU single market" if the parliament's provisions were adopted.

Polish EPP MEP Elisabeth Lukacijewska, a member of the transport committee, said it was "clear" from the parliament's text that "some MEPs don't adhere to EU values of freedom of movement for goods, services and people at the single market" and only want to crack down on cheaper Eastern European companies.

"Some MEPs are using the concept of social dumping like a banner, without trying to understand the differences in pay systems, in what appears to be a very useful slogan in their election campaigns," Lukacijewska said.

EU commissioner for agriculture, Phil Hogan, who spoke on behalf of her transport colleague Violeta Bulc, said on Wednesday that the package would improve social conditions of drivers and make the rules on cabotage easier to enforce.

He said it would also make road transport more environmentally sustainable and competitive.

Why doesn't the EU have a road transport agency?

There are EU agencies covering maritime transport, aviation, and railways, but road transport never got its own. Some MEPs are now advocating one, to the chagrin of many member states.

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