The mechanism seems easy: workers from the Eastern European countries make their way to the west to earn money. That could be seen as the perfect example of European integration. But the reality looks different.
Regulations exist only on paper and there is “zero priority in enforcing existing rules to protect workers in road transport,” Edwin Atema from the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation FNV says.
Up to 15 per cent of the cost of a European product is accountable to the transport sector, with the biggest part of it on the streets. While driving through central Europe this sector is highly visual, not only are the roads covered in trucks with foreign license plates, but also, the rest stations are full of them.
Personal stories lie behind the facades of these vehicles, “there are a lot of things happening on the edges of labor legislation,” says Director of the NGO FairWork, Sandra Claassen.
Goran Lukic from the Slovenian Counseling Office for Workers paints a similar picture, “there is a pattern which is quite easy – do as much work as possible with fewer truck drivers.”
Pushing the truck drivers to their physical and mental limits is a common way of heightening the profit on the streets, Lukic says.
Extra shifts, working up to 15 hours a day, unpaid wages and unbearable working conditions, behind every truck window on our street one can find a different story.
“The only grip the drivers have to their working place is their truck,” Atema says, “it is used then to isolate the workers from their rights.”
The number is getting higher
According to Lukic, there is a conflict between the war against social dumping and the war for competition, since the economic ground gives impetus for exploitation.
“All Eastern European countries are putting themselves in the position of exploitation,” the expert says, “Unfortunately the number of people who are coming to us is getting higher and higher.”
With three full-time employees the Slovenian NGO deals with 500 to 600 contacts with exploited workers a month.
“In an ideal world there wouldn’t be any need for such a counseling office,” Lukic says.
As Atema from the FNV points out, statistics are missing, “because there are no controls, no checks and no balances.”
Still one can see the exploitation on every parking lot, since many truck drivers are forced to live and sleep in the cabins of their trucks.
“We saw the terrorist attacks in Nice, Berlin and in Stockholm. We saw that a truck is dangerous, actually it is a weapon. Can we imagine then that Eastern European truck drivers are treated like animals? These guys are driving bombs over our European roads,” the expert says.
According to Lukic they even dealt with cases in which people died in accidents caused by fatigue.
The situation of the truck drivers on the European streets is far from ideal, Claassen says, “sometimes when we talk to people they do not consider themselves as victims of exploitation.”
For her the problem lies with the exploiters, not the workers.
“The Berlin wall has fallen but there is still a wall in paying workers,” Atema says.
But even with more people coming to the Counseling Office in Slovenia, Lukic sees a turn in the right direction.
“More and more workers are not comparing themselves nationally, but internationally.”
To see yourself as a part of the global system is, for him, the first step to escape the micro cosmos of exploitation.
Picture (top): Source: Max Sat