Freight News, Road, Logistics, Forwarding

Exploitation is rife in Europe’s road transport, say unions

[ June 26, 2020   //   ]

Road transport companies are exploiting Covid-19 to exploit truck drivers across Europe, according to a report by the International Transport Workers’ Federation and trade unions, published on 25 June. It includes allegations of drivers being trafficked and forced to sign false documentation, often in languages that they do not understand, while being forced to live in their vehicles for months on end.

ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton said that the European road transport industry had long been plagued by exploitation of drivers and human rights abuses but the Covid 19 crisis has exacerbated the abuse.

He said: “Human trafficking is a growing problem in the industry, and we’ve documented multiple cases where drivers from outside the EU have been trafficked into Eastern European countries, sign contracts at the bottom of complex subcontracting chains, and are then forced to work almost exclusively in Western Europe with little pay, false documentation and with no way out.”

“European governments and multinational companies can no longer turn a blind eye to this exploitation,” he declared.

ITF says its investigation has revealed that transport companies are exploiting the lack of checks and controls by enforcement authorities during the pandemic.

It said that drivers from Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkey, the Philippines and other non-EU countries being employed on Eastern European contracts despite almost exclusively working in Western Europe.

They are forced to sign contracts in languages they cannot read and are being paid average fixed salaries of around €100-600 per month, often having to rest, sleep, eat and live in their vehicles for months.

Many were supplied with false documentation about their employment status and were threatened with violence and financial penalties for alerting authorities about driving and resting times, safety, pay and other issues.

The report also accused multinational customers and transport companies of exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to reduce transport prices and driver pay.

Drivers are provided with little or no personal protective equipment while the exemptions to driving and resting time regulations introduced during the crisis have led to employers coercing drivers to work more dangerous hours. Drivers are not receiving sick pay.

Lead investigator Edwin Atema from the FNV-VNB union said:  “Families are driving on highways alongside 40-tonne trucks driven by drivers that have not rested properly, are being forced to work excessive hours, are ill, or are victims of human trafficking. The roads of Europe are not safe. This exploitation must end now,” he said

IUF general secretary Sue Longley said: “The findings of this report show that no multinational can guarantee that their transport supply chains are free from exploitation, which means they cannot guarantee that product is being safely transported. I call on all multinationals in the food and drink industry to work with the IUF, ITF and FNV-VNB to ensure they provide consumers across Europe with product that has been transported in a supply chain that guarantees safety and workers’ rights.”

ITF inland transport secretary, Noel Coard, said that multinational companies are unaware or uninterested of what really happens in their subcontracted transport. He said: “There is not one multinational transporting goods in the EU that can guarantee that these issues are not in in their supply chain, so our message to transport companies and their customers is simple: either you are part of the solution which we welcome, or part of the problem, and in that case we will hold you accountable.”


The pandemic in road transport video: