Truck drivers go on a wage strike

IF – 10/2023

It is not often that workers' strikes at European level receive as much media and political attention as the striking groups of truck drivers at the German Gräfenhausen motorway service area in the State of Hesse. One could even speak of scenes worthy of a film as the haulage company had its own goon squads sent out to massively threaten and intimidate the truck drivers. This behaviour led not only to horror in politics, but also in their own industry. The practices of a few companies are considered opaque and not very employee-friendly.

Trigger of the strike

The grievance became public via a European-based haulage company that refused to pay its lorry drivers their wages. Not only the haulage company in question had been guilty, but also companies supplied as well as subcontractors that were part of the supply chain in the European Union. The strike lasted almost two months and kept European social politicians in and around Brussels busy. 110 trucks were parked at a motorway service area and refused to deliver their goods. Former drivers of the haulage company in question without trucks also came to join the protest and demand the wages the company owed them for months.

Agreement reached through European cooperation

The political pressure against the anti-employee conditions showed effect and the outstanding wage was paid by an affected company in the supply chain. The European Supply Chain Act is a good start in standing up for fair and transparent treatment of employees. In close cooperation with the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB) and the Dutch Transport Workers' Union (itf), the injured parties received back pay after tough negotiations and the haulage company in question agreed not to take legal action against the strikers.

Great relief, but consequences necessary

Many MEPs visited the strikers and not only problems with wages were raised, but also other grievances such as lack of sanitary facilities as well as safe and sufficient parking spaces along the European routes. The two MEPs Gaby Bischoff (S&D/DE) and Agnes Jongerius (S&D, NL) called for an assurance that such grievance would not recur. Europe should draw political consequences from this in order to continue to protect all employees from such exploitation in Europe.

Reaction of the European Commission

The European Commission refers to the European Mobility Pact. The working conditions of drivers and the fight against unfair practices in the sector are at the heart of the adopted Mobility Pact and are a priority for the European Commission. After consultation with Member States and stakeholders, guidelines were drafted with the European Labour Authority. In the area of posting, there is already a public interface to the Internal Market Information System (IMI) for posting drivers in the road transport sector. Companies can submit posting declarations and send them to the competent authorities for verification. 16 Member States are currently facing infringement proceedings.

Improvement required

The transport industry does an important job for the functioning of society – the free movement of goods, thereby making a major contribution to the European single market. Existing protection rules are to be improved, for example by enhancing controls and regulations to ensure worker protection in the long term.