Portuguese unions participate in lorry drivers day of action

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On 5 October 1999, Portuguese trade unions participated in a Europe-wide day of action to highlight the issue of lorry and bus drivers' working hours.

Europe-wide demonstrations of lorry and bus drivers were organised by the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) on 5 October 1999, with the aim of pressing for legislative action on the regulation of working time in the road transport sector (EU9910203F). The ETF day of action, under the slogan "fatigue kills", involved demonstrations, information campaigns and roadblocks in EU Member States and formed part of the international road transport action day organised by theInternational Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) (EU9909193N). The day of action happened on the day before a meeting of the EU Transport Council of Ministers and ETF hoped that it would focus attention on the outstanding issue of working time regulation for drivers.

Portuguese and Spanish lorry drivers joined together to hold a demonstration at the major border crossing between the two countries, at Vilar Formoso. A particular focus of Portuguese trade unions, in light of the draft EU Directive on working time for mobile workers in road transport and for self-employed drivers (EU9901144F) under consideration in the EU Council of Ministers, is the issue of working time and work at weekends, and whether lorries should be prohibited from circulating on Sundays between 07.00 and 22.00. According to the unions, a European initiative could standardise rules in this area, since only seven Member States currently have norms in place regarding circulation of lorries at weekends.

At Vilar Formoso, the unions stopped traffic for three minutes as a token demonstration and distributed pamphlets to motorists. According to the press, around 200 lorries gathered for the event. The Portuguese unions say that the most controversial issues at stake, apart from weekend lorry traffic, are:

  • the maximum number of working hours that should be imposed. The unions want a maximum limit of 48 hours a week, with a daily maximum of nine hours and rest periods of at least 10 or 12 hours;
  • putting an end to work paid by the kilometre driven; and
  • improved highway safety, especially through effective and uniform control over the working hours of drivers. The current Community rules in this area (in Regulation 3820/85) permit a number of exceptions, and do not apply to some occupations.

The Portuguese Federation of Road and Urban Transport Unions (Federação dos Sindicatos de Transportes Rodoviários e Urbanos, FESTRU) is asking the government to carry out a study to find out the real causes of lorry accidents on the roads. They believe that there is a tendency to blame accidents on simple "human error", ignoring the fact that a driver may be on the road for 15 or 16 hours without adequate rest breaks. The union also believes that EU-level harmonising legislation should be based on the highest common denominator, improving working conditions and highway safety. They fear, however, that the regulations imposed by the proposed new Directive may be a threat to more favourable conditions already existing in some Member States, such as Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Luxembourg and Portugal, where norms are more restrictive.

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