Social dumping in the road transport sector and problems with cross-border infrastructure were the main topics at the transport conference held by the European Economic and Social Committee and the Economic and Social Council of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on 11 and 12 November. The conference was attended by François Bausch, Luxembourg's Minister for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure; Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Dutch Minister for Infrastructure and the Environment and MEP Jutta Steinruck from the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.
The conference contributed to the discussion of the European Commission's road package (to be published next year) by presenting the recently adopted EESC opinion The internal market of international road freight: social dumping and cabotage, (rapporteurs: Raymond Hencks, Workers' Group and Stefan Back, Employers' Group), requested by the Luxemburg Presidency of the Council. The EESC has defined social dumping as practices that endeavour to circumvent or are in breach of social or market access regulations (letterbox companies) in order to gain competitive advantages.
Road freight transport is the engine of the European economy. It accounts for 73% of inland freight transport. Freight represents almost 2% of European GDP. For Western European hauliers, labour is by far the largest part of their operational costs. By contrast, for operators based in Central and Eastern Europe the highest average cost is fuel. Against this background, some EU-15 hauliers experience a competitive disadvantage and seek to use low-wage labour. Data shows that social dumping exists and represents a risk to the internal market and to workers' rights. A number of undertakings have developed complex and ambiguous employment schemes, taking advantage of the cross-border and high-mobility nature of the sector, resorting to agencies, manning companies or fictitious companies (the "letterbox" system) based in Member States with low protection and low labour and social standards. Depending on the circumstances, such arrangements may be borderline or illegal, in particular where the links of the employment contract to a country with low wages and low social standards are fictitious. The parties negatively impacted by social dumping practices are, in particular, road haulage undertakings that do not resort to such practices, and professional drivers, at least in EU-15.
The EESC believes that unilateral national measures to combat social dumping could present a risk of fragmentation of the internal market in road transport. This means that there is an urgent need for action at the EU level.
The EESC calls for measures to tackle this problem such as a more active implementation and enforcement of existing Directives, and the deployment of the European Register of Road Transport Undertakings. The EESC also draws attention to the need to make sure that third-country drivers employed by EU companies are recruited in full compliance with applicable immigration rules, work under conditions that respect mandatory legal provisions and are issued with a driver certificate, as required by EU legislation.
The participants at the conference also discussed problems and solutions for persistent problems with cross-border infrastructure - an issue of particular importance to Luxembourg, given its position as a transit country.