The self-employed lorry driver as superman who never gets tired. This is obviously the idea of the Commission, when dealing with the Working Time Directive in the road transport sector. Although the European Parliament had already rejected the Directive Proposal in May, the Commission continues to stick to its plan to exempt self-employed drivers from the Working Time Directive. This week, the Working Time Directive for persons in the road transport was once again debated by the European Parliament.
In its current version, the 2002 Working Time Directive in the road transport sector provides for self-employed drivers to be subject to the Directive from March 2009. Hence, a restriction of working time would also apply to self-employed drivers. This is now a thorn in the flesh of the Commission. It wants to exempt self-employed drivers and is getting a lot of support from the European People’s Party and the European Conservatives. Controlling the working times of self-employed drivers would significantly increase red tape apart from being expensive: furthermore one should not dictate to self-employed drivers what they should do as they were self-employed, is the opinion of MEPs such as Helmer or Koch.

Apart from that, the Commission stated that HGVs only had been involved in 6 % of road accidents. Any tiredness of drivers would have nothing to do with being exhausted from driving, but with sleeping problems or personal circumstances. In addition, there were already regulations in place for driving times and rest periods, which applied to all. Furthermore, one would be in contact with the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF), which was currently debating the Draft.

The Commission representatives Pasquarelli and Schmidt had to accept harsh criticism from the chairman of the Employment Committee Pervenche Bères (Socialists and Democrats). Since the May debate, they had not made any new contributions to adjusting the Directive. Apart from that, her party colleague Cercas complained that obviously no longer any discussions with the social partners were taking place, as he had learned from a conversation with the trade unions.

Voices against the draft Directive came from MEPs of the Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the Left Party. The MEP Evelyn Regner of the Socialists and Democrats gets to the heart of the matter: from the point of view of safety it would be urgently required to include self-employed drivers in the Working Time Directive. There were already 100 persons in Austria, whose road traffic death had been caused by falling asleep momentarily. Apart from that, the integration of self-employed drivers would significantly reduce administrative work, as it was currently very time consuming to find out whether a driver was indeed self-employed or just a pseudo self-employed driver.

Thomas Händel, a representative of the Left Party pointed out that in his capacity as labour court judge and trade unionist he often had to deal with such cases. Based on this practical experience he therefore knows that a Directive as proposed by the Commission would not be justiciable. He furthermore massively criticised the fact that his Directive would represent unfair competition, apart from forcing employees into (pseudo) self employment. The Liberal MEP Lynn emphasized that she had always been opposed to the Directive, as it would be important from a safety point of view to regulate this sector. The consequences of any wrong regulation would also affect other road users. A Finnish Liberal representative informed the Commission that in her country HGVs were involved in a ¼ of all road accidents and not only in 6 %. MEP Toussas of the Left Party pointed out that the Driving time and Rest Period Regulation (VO 561/2006EG) would allow to be on the road for 84 hours a week; the Directive proposal would only make things worse, as working times such as loading and unloading and general office work would no longer be allowed for in case of self-employed drivers.

Finally, a comment by a French Conservative MEP who will also vote against the Directive proposal was very interesting. In France, she said, one had made the experience that since regulating the working times for employed drivers, fewer HGVs had been involved in road accidents. She does not want the regulation to be undermined by self-employed drivers.

As already in May 2009, AK, vida, the trade union in charge of road traffic and the ETF outlined again the consequences of such a Directive by means of written positions and personal discussions with MEPs

The further time schedule provides for a vote on the Report on 29. September 2009. Should this be rejected (and therefore the Directive accepted) it was agreed to prepare a new report on the matter.

Further information:

Draft report by rapporteur Edith Bauer