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Combating undeclared work in the transport industry needs closer cross-border cooperation

  • 28 September 2020

On 23 September the Swedish Work Environment Authority organised a webinar on challenges and opportunities in the transport industry. The initiative is part of EU efforts to combat undeclared work and the ongoing campaign #EU4fairwork.

- The purpose was to raise problems we know exist in the transport industry and to discuss possible solutions to them. We are focusing on the transport industry because it struggles with different types of irregularities in several EU member states. These include exploitation of workforce, cheating with hours of driving and rest, and not having your weekly rest at another place than in the truck. There is also fraud in payment of taxes and fees, which lead to unfair competition and makes it hard for the majority of serious haulage companies to survive, Magnus Falk, Head of Unit for International Affairs at the Swedish Work Environment Authority, says.

Participants in the webinar were civil servants such as inspectors, experts and legal advisers from public authorities responsible for work environment, labour inspections, police matters and customs in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Representatives of the European Labour Authority and of the social partners in the transport industry also participated.

Social partners call for closer cooperation

Representatives from the Swedish Transport workers union and the Norwegian truck owners association had similar views of the existing problems in the industry. They described how foreign drivers in their countries are exploited – having low wages, not enough rest, sleeping in their vehicles – and how their employers operate to avoid paying taxes. They also pointed at the fact that even though freight transport by road is increasing rapidly, the profitability is very low.

To combat unfair competition and social dumping from low cost companies in other European countries, they called for closer cooperation with the authorities as they can provide them with industry knowledge. They also pointed at the need for stronger cooperation between the authorities concerned, but they were aware of the obstacles that present secrecy legislations put in their way. A special concern was the implementation of the new EU Mobility rules package - how it is going to be enforced and by whom. Increased control and more effective sanctioning is important to achieve compliance.

Competent authorities ask for better ways of sharing information

In the weeks preceding the webinar, participating countries carried out concerted inspections. They focused on finding vehicles and drivers originating in another country, which could assist in following-up the driver’s employment situation. This is necessary to decide to what working conditions the driver is entitled.

The countries presented their results and discussed the main challenges they face in combating undeclared work. Some of them were:

  • Knowledge and scope of authority competence: Some authorities only deal with work environment issues and not labour rules in general
  • Exchange of information: Authorities cannot share everything due to secrecy rules and it may be difficult to have the information needed on time
  • Lack of contact points in other countries
  • How to control the rules of the Mobility package
  • Locating relevant trucks to check

Some possible solutions were:

  • Develop the EU Internal Market Information System further to support the exchange of information between countries in a more efficient way
  • Continue networking to strengthen personal contacts in different countries to speed up the follow-up of suspected companies
  • Integrate authorities’ international and national work
  • Create national structures where competent authorities concerned work together – the Norwegian A-krimsenter serving as an example
  • Make databases available to and share more information with other countries, not only at request
  • Make more joint inspections with more authorities involved
  • Strengthen cooperation with social partners
  • Inform employers and workers about their obligations and rights
  • Carry out information campaigns during longer periods to raise awareness
  • Allocate more national resources for this area

The representative of European Labour Authority presented the support they can give, such as providing tools and methods for sharing information and organising inspections.

- The webinar showed that both authorities and social partners agree on the problems and want to cooperate to find effective solutions. It is crucial for the survival of the industry to secure competition on equal terms and to ensure safe and decent working conditions for drivers, Magnus Falk says.

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