Drivers demand shorter working hours

A Europe-wide demonstration of lorry and bus drivers took place on 5 October 1999 to highlight the continuing hiatus over the regulation of working time for mobile workers and self-employed drivers in the road transport sector. Although a draft Directive to address this matter was issued almost a year ago, its progress in the EU Council of Ministers has been slow.

A demonstration of lorry and bus drivers was organised by the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) on 5 October 1999, designed to highlight the continuing lack of action on the regulation of working time in the road transport sector for mobile workers and self-employed drivers.

The ETF day of action 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 was timely, as it fell on the day before an EU transport ministers Council in Kirchberg, Luxembourg and ETF therefore hoped that the demonstration would bring to the attention of the transport Council the outstanding issue of working time regulation for drivers.

Fatigue kills

The international day of action was organised under the slogan "fatigue kills" in order to highlight the problems related to long working hours for drivers in terms of their own health and safety and road safety in general. According to ETF:

  • 20% of accidents involving trucks and coaches are the result of fatigue:
  • 44% of drivers in Germany regularly work between 60 and 80 hours per week; and
  • 13% of drivers have almost caused an accident as a result of tiredness.

The issue of working time regulation in the road transport sector has been a central concern of ITF for over 20 years and precedes by many years the 1993 EU working time Directive (93/104/EC). ITF began to call for international minimum standards in the 1970s, and in 1979 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted Convention No.153 on hours of work and rest periods (road transport). This establishes minimum health and safety standards for drivers and a maximum 48-hour week. However, so far only seven countries have ratified the Convention, withSpain the only EU Member State to do so.

The "fatigue kills" campaign is therefore an attempt to renew interest in the issue on an international scale, while at the European level, the campaign is specifically aimed at lending impetus to the extension of the provisions of the 1993 working time Directive to road transport drivers. A previous day of action had been held in September 1998 (EU9809127F)

An excluded sector

Road transport was one of the sectors originally excluded from the scope of the 1993 working time Directive, along with air, sea, inland waterway and lake transport, sea fishing, other work at sea and doctors in training.

TheEuropean Commission was concerned to end this exclusion and issued a White Paper in July 1997 stating that negotiated agreements between the social partners represented the best way forward for extending the provisions of the working time Directive to the excluded sectors (EU9707138N). A second consultation paper was issued by the Commission in March 1998 stating that, in the absence of any negotiated agreement between the social partners, the Commission would issue legislative proposals to cover the excluded sectors (EU9804102N).

By this time, social partner talks in a number of sectors were well underway. The Commission therefore set a deadline of 30 September 1998 for the conclusion of agreements. Although agreement was reached between the social partners in the maritime sector and was signed on 30 September 1998 (EU9802182F), the social partners in the road transport sector failed to reach agreement (EU9809127F). The main bone of contention between the social partners was the definition of working time. The Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union (FST) - as EFT was then called - contended that the definition of total working time should include time spent on loading and unloading, cleaning and maintenance. However, the International Road Transport Union (IRU), which represents employers, stated that it was unwilling to amend the prevailing definition of total working time in Regulation 3820/85 (covering operational safety in this area), which includes driving time only. This impasse thus triggered the issuing of legislative proposals from the Commission, which formed part a package of measures issued on 18 November 1998 (EU9901144F).

The package consisted primarily of four draft Directives:

  • an extension of the 1993 working time Directive to cover all non-mobile workers in sectors and activities that were previously excluded from the scope of the 1993 Directive;
  • a proposal to cover mobile workers in road transport and self-employed drivers;
  • a proposal to implement the social partners' agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers; and
  • a proposal to cover seafarers' hours of work on board ships using Community ports.

At the meeting of the Council of Labour and Social Affairs Ministers on 25 May 1999, the Council was able to reach political agreement on common positions on all the above proposals except the draft Directive for mobile workers in road transport and for self-employed drivers (EU9906178F).

The draft Directive for the road transport industry issued by the Commission takes into account the discussions between the social partners and is designed to provide statutory protection for mobile workers. It defines working time as including not only driving time but also time spent on activities such as loading, cleaning and maintenance. It aims to improve the health and safety conditions of drivers by:

  • providing a maximum weekly working time of 48 hours, which can be extended to 60 hours provided that average maximum weekly working time does not exceed 48 hours over a four-month period;
  • granting a minimum 30-minute break following working time of between six and nine hours and a minimum break of 45 minutes if working time exceeds nine hours;
  • restricting night work to eight hours in a 24-hour period; and
  • guaranteeing an 11-hour daily rest period.

This proposal is progressing very slowly in Council. At the Council of Transport Ministers on 18 June 1999, it was decided that further consideration was necessary, a development which has led to frustration amongst trade unions in the industry.

October Council meeting

At the transport Council on 6 October in Luxembourg, a delegation of drivers and their trade union representatives were received to put their arguments over long working hours and health and safety conditions.

Finnish transport minister Olli-Pekka Heinonen, who is currently President of the transport Council, acknowledged the need to introduce working time regulation, but revealed that there is disagreement among ministers over whether or not self-employed drivers should be included in any new regulation.

This prompted concern from the trade union delegation, which has insisted that new regulations must cover all mobile workers in order to ensure minimum standards across the sector.

Commentary

ETF is hoping that progress on the issue of working time regulation for mobile workers and self-employed drivers can be made soon and in October transport ministers showed some sign of optimism that an agreement can be reached over the coming months. However, it is unclear whether the outstanding issues, notably the inclusion of self-employed drivers, can be resolved before the next meeting of the transport Council.

Even if a decision is made by the end of 1999, it will take some months before the proposal successfully makes its way through the EU decision-making machinery, now that this draft Directive is subject to the more complex co-decision procedure.

All parties involved must feel some regret that the sectoral social partners failed to negotiate an agreement on this issue in 1998, thereby obviating the need for this more complicated legislative process. (Neil Bentley, IRS).

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