Undertaken by France’s road freight research and data agency, Comité National Routier (CNR), the study takes into account lorry drivers’ employment and pay conditions, including salaries, social security contributions, travel allowances, driving time and working hours.
The study reveals that, taken as a whole, the cost-gap in terms of driving personnel is enormous. “The same hour’s driving in the same lorry on the same road with the same goods can cost €8 per hour or €33 per hour depending on whether the driver is employed by a Bulgarian company or a Belgian company,” the report said.
The total annual cost of an EU international lorry driver ranges from €16,000 for a Bulgarian haulier to €56,000 for a Belgian haulier. “From the perspective of the drivers, who cross paths at the truck stops, these are more than mere figures,” the report added. “The Europe they perceive is not one of social solidarity, but one of competitiveness.” It continued: “Competitiveness gaps of this magnitude cannot exist in one marketplace. We can only confirm the theorem put forward by French economist Michel Albert, which essentially warns that any business based in a country with high living standards which employs primarily low-skilled labour is bound to either go bankrupt or move its operations elsewhere.”
EU expansion and the introduction of limited ‘cabotage’ (domestic transport) rights for international haulage operators in Europe’s road haulage sector have seen haulage firms based in higher-cost countries such as Italy, Belgium, and France squeezed out of the international space over the past decade. The market has become hyper-concentrated around several countries, with Poland alone having a 25% share of the EU market while hauliers from Member States such as Lithuania, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have emerged as important players. Under EU ‘cabotage’ rules, foreign firms have the right to carry out a maximum of three domestic transport operations over a seven-day period, immediately following an international operation.
Although there have been plans to open up the EU cabotage market completely, this continues to face considerable opposition, particularly from higher-wage western European countries. In May 2013, the Commission bowed to pressure from road haulage federations and shelved plans to introduce a cabotage scheme without restrictions across the EU from 2014. “As things stand in terms of competition relations, if the European cabotage market is opened up in the coming years, we should make no mistake that the same causes will lead to the same effects,” the report said. It said the goals set out in the EU’s founding treaties of social “harmonisation while improvement is being maintained”, and a level playing field in terms of competition conditions in Europe, are still a major work in progress, at least in Europe’s road freight transport sector. “For a significant number of EU Member States, the current situation in the international road freight transport single market is therefore untenable,” the study adds.
France and Germany in recent years have attempted to protect their own road freight operators by introducing various minimum-wage requirements, including for international hauliers in transit, although these have been challenged by other EU countries. In February 2015, the German government suspended the application of legislation introduced the previous month that imposed the country’s minimum wage on international hauliers in transit through Germany. The measure had been intended to combat ‘dumping’ on wages in the German road haulage industry, where there is strong resentment at unfair competition from low-wage countries. But the government bowed to pressure from other European countries, notably Poland, and also trade bodies such as the IRU. In May 2015, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Germany concerning the application of its Minimum Wage Act relating to international road haulage transit operations. The infringement does not extend to cabotage activities, meaning Germany can still require that its minimum wage of €8.50 per hour be paid to the drivers of foreign firms when on domestic operations within the country. The Commission has yet to adopt a position on cabotage in relation to the minimum wage in individual Member States. France’s rules may also come under EC scrutiny.
In February 2015, the French parliament passed a law, to take effect at the end of 2015, applying France’s statutory minimum wage to cabotage operations. As reported in Lloyd’s Loading List, transport ministers from eight European states in October wrote to EU Transport commissioner Violeta Bulc to highlight their growing concerns over alleged violations of EU labour laws and illegal business practices within the road haulage sector, which they claim has led to unfair competition and ‘social dumping’. The ministers, from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg and non-member Norway, claim that “the fundamental rights such as the free movement of goods and services, which we wholeheartedly support, are increasingly being invoked in an abusive way in order to avoid conforming to European regulations, which are the guarantee of fair competition in the internal market”. They make a number of recommendations to the Commissioner, which include prohibiting drivers from sleeping in their vehicles during designated weekly rest periods, stepping up and harmonising checks on HGVs, introducing measures to put an end to ‘shell company’ activity as well as action to curb the growing trend of light commercial vehicles (vans) carrying out international transport operations. Germany and France have taken unilateral steps to impose their minimum wage regulations on international road haulage firms in a bid to quash ‘social dumping’ practices. But the Commission reacted by instigating infringement proceedings against the two Member States. “In both instances, we are at the first stage of the infringement procedure,” the EU source said. “A letter of formal notice was sent and we received the respective replies from the French and German authorities. We are assessing these replies before deciding on the next steps, and are not bound by a deadline.”
ECG – The Association of European Vehicle Logistics