For almost two years, the European Parliament has been negotiating social legislation for lorry and bus drivers. There have been no fewer than six votes in Parliament to achieve a compromise with majority appeal in plenary on April 4th 2019. However, apart from several positive aspects, it also includes a number of critical points.
Social legislation for HGV and bus drivers is among the most controversial issues at European level. It concerns key provisions for drivers to prevent social dumping: they reach from the question when the Posting of Workers Directive has to be applied, via permissible driving times and rest periods up to provisions as when foreign companies may undertake national transports (cabotage).
A compromise of light and shadow
The Report, which on April 4th 2019 won the majority in the EU Parliament plenary, provides for the Posting of Workers Directive to be applied in case of cross-border journeys only if more than two intermediate stops have been taken. This is not quite the application of the Posting of Workers Directive regarding cross-border journeys, which had been demanded by the Chamber of Labour. However, the regulation is at least stricter than the Commission’s proposal to apply the Directive only from the 4th day of a month, or the requests of other MEPs, who had demanded ten and more intermediate stops before it should be applied.
With regard to driving times and rest periods, Parliament is in favour of retaining the current rest periods at weekends. The Commission had proposed to enable two reduced weekly rest periods in a row. However, in exchange, according to Parliament it should be possible to drive - in exceptions - two hours longer to reach a company location. The Commission is still to evaluate the necessity of additional exceptions for bus drivers. Spending regular weekly rest period of 45 hours at weekends in the vehicle is expressly prohibited; however, returning to the driver’s residence after four weeks at the latest has been softened, as he/she may decide on another location. Potentially, this means great pressure being put on the drivers concerned to decide on a “more favourable” location.
Foreign companies shall be able to carry out national transports for three days, subsequent to a cross-border journey. The Commission had proposed five days. This provision is fairly remote from the Council’s position, as it provides for retaining the current regulation (3 national journeys within seven days).
No agreement in the first round
By these three reports gaining a majority, the long way of these three dossiers ended on April 4th 2019 with many extremely confrontational debates and no fewer than six votes:
In April 2018, the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs EMPL supported effective measures to protect drivers against social dumping. However, a month later, the Committee on Transport and Tourism TRAN voiced a contrasting view and adopted a Report, which would have provided for a far-reaching market opening at the expense of employees. However, in July 2018 the Report did not gain a majority in plenary, which meant “back to square one” for the three dossiers.
New attempt in 2019
Whilst the European Council announced its general orientation on these three dossiers in December 2018, none of the presented reports gained a majority during the new vote in the Committee on Transport and Tourism TRAN in January 2019. Only concerning the cabotage, the majority was able to agree on a text.
In order to be able to reach completion before the end of this legislative period, the three dossiers were again on the plenary’s agenda in March 2019. However, due to the fact that MEPs tabled no fewer than 1,600 amendments, Parliament President Antonio Tajani called a special meeting of the Committee on Transport and Tourism for April 2nd 2019. However, during this meeting the majority of amendments achieved the required number of votes to be tabled again in plenary.
In order to avoid hours of voting in plenary on April 4th 2019, the amendments were combined in blocks. However, this was massively rejected in particular by Eastern European MEPs, who demand a far-reaching liberalisation of the transport industry. They applied to postpone voting in the hope that their neoliberal position might have a better chance to gain majority in the new Parliament. However, voting finally took place, whereby the compromise texts between Social Democrats and Liberals, who also had the support from a larger number of MEPs of the European People’s Party, gained majority.
Improvements in trilogue necessary
However, voting in Parliament does not mean that the last word on the legislative texts has been spoken: after the elections, trilogue negotiations between Commission, Council and Parliament will begin. Within the scope of these trilogue negotiations, the Chamber of Labour will continue to work towards ensuring that the new regulations will effectively fight against social dumping in Europe and that the working conditions of millions of employees in the transport industry will not deteriorate any further.
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