Freight News, Road

Forwarders dismayed by ‘return home’ plans for truck drivers

[ February 11, 2017   //   ]

The Clecat European forwarders’ alliance has hit out against proposals by nine European transport ministers that would ‘encourage’ operators to allow drivers to return to their home base at weekends. It says that the proposals would reduce the competitiveness of European transport and would frustrate ambitions to reduce carbon emissions.

Ministers from nine European countries – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden and Norway – have drawn up proosals for a ‘Road Alliance’ that, they say, would fight ‘social dumping’ in the industry by harmonising legislation and strengthening legislation on driving and rest periods.

They also plan to increase controls on light commercial vehicles under 3.5 tonnes that are not currently subject to the same rules as heavier trucks.

They are also calling for strengthened reporting of cabotage operations in the EU and more controls on tachograph fraud by so-called letterbox companies nominally established in the EU but with a major part of their operation based outside its territory.

Clecat however is calling for a more realistic and pragmatic approach “at a time when Europe needs to refrain from further protectionism which will ultimately not bring benefits to the European economy and society.” It says that liberalisation of international road freight transport has allowed social and economic growth all over Europe and remains the backbone of the EU economy.

As far as the proposals to facilitate the return to home base of the driver for regular weekly rest, it says: “In view of the highly mobile and international character of the road freight transport operations such a return to home base for regular weekly rests would not only increase the number of empty vehicles on the road but equally increase the overall number of vehicles on the road, which would counter better planning of supply chains in order to reduce fuel consumption and reduce emissions. Implementation of these sorts of rules into international road freight transport will ultimately undermine the competitiveness of the EU economy.”

However, Clecat is more supportive of Road Alliance plans to strengthen national controls against fraud. It says that there is a longstanding need to enhance co-operation between member states and between different authorities of the same member state. Simplifying the restrictions on cabotage would allow more focus by legislators falls on compliance to ensure safe operation, it says.

Clecat adds that it remains the task of national governments to ensure enforcement of regulations and to exchange information and national control practices. Director-general Nicolette van der Jagt, added: “We are worried to see enforcement being replaced more and more by national initiatives and regulation, and an increased administrative burden on freight forwarders – to the level of taking over the role of enforcement. It should be noted that freight forwarders always seek to ensure, before contracting a service from a carrier, that rules are being respected, including the legislation with regards to the minimum wages and driving and resting times. There are however limits to what can reasonably be controlled by them to avoid carriers committing offenses, whether intended or unintended.”

She also pointed out: “Overall, it should be noted that cabotage infringements are low or very low and that cases of abuse and fraud are not properly registered. Current discussions in the European Parliament on social dumping disrespect the competent majority of drivers and companies who operate according to the rules – and are victims of burdensome administrative measures.”

Clecat is however supportive of Road Alliance plans to promote the use of electronic consignment notes (eCMRs) to reduce the administrative burden and increase efficiency and effectiveness of controls.

In their propsoals, the Road Alliance suggests that there could be sanctions on companies that do not put in place measures allowing drivers to comply with hours regulations. Furthermore, there should me measures at national or European level to encourage drivers that work away from their home country “to faciliate their return there at least on the occasion of the regular weekly rest period.”

On light commercial vehicles, it says that there are an increasing number of “non-established operators” using vehicles under 3.5 tonnes to carry out international or cabotage hire and reward work. This, it says, “not only undermines the conditions for healthy competition, it also carries risks for road safety as there is no guarantee that the operators of these vehicles are well-trained professionals.” It suggests that there should legislation similar to that for heavier trucks.

It also wants to encourage those member states that have not already done so to ratify the eCMR protocol.

On cabotage, the Road Alliance wants to improve the quality of data collected and strengthen reporting obligations.

Controls against so-called ‘letterbox’ operators must be stiffened, it adds and there should be thorough investigation of whether such companies have in fact been properly registered.

The Road Alliance also notes that uncapping road haulage quotas “would primarily benefit non-Community carriers” and could lead to increased social dumping, seriously undermining competitiveness if European carriers. Also, the free movement of light commercial vehicles from third countries within the EU “is also no longer acceptable.”