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Truck drivers in Europe.

Great differences.

CNR has released the report on the conditions of truck drivers in Europe.The yearly number of hours driven by an international lorry driver ranges from 1,540 in France to 2,025 in Lithuania, with figures in the region of 1,980 hours being very common. These hours are perfectly in keeping with EU legislation.

The hourly cost of international driving therefore ranges from €8 per hour for a Bulgarian haulier to more than €33 per hour for his Belgian counterpart; in other words the difference between the highest and lowest costs is four-fold. Between these two extremes, an average hourly driving cost of €10 per hour for Eastern European hauliers is very common. This represents a three-fold difference with the middle-of-the-road figure in Western Europe.

The annual mileage covered by an international driver varies from 107,000km for French drivers to more than 140,000 for their Bulgarian counterparts, which again is perfectly within the law.

The cost per kilometre of an international driver therefore ranges from 11 to 48 euro cents per kilometre.

The gross salary of an international lorry driver varies within Europe from €300 to €3,300 per month. There is therefore an eleven-fold difference between the highest and lowest of the total wages (including all components) subject to social security contributions and income tax.

Taking all these aspects into account, the total annual cost of an international lorry driver ranges from €16,000 for a Bulgarian haulier to €56,000 for a Belgian haulier.

As regards terms of pay, the most common practice is to pay a rate per kilometre, of around 9 euro cents/km, on top of a fixed basic salary starting at €300/month in some countries This variable component can also take the form of a bonus per country crossed or per journey completed.

It is worth pointing out the unusual situation in France, as it has a major impact on productivity. In the first instance, it is compulsory to base drivers' wages on the hours read from the tachometer. The CNR surveys found that this practice was not observed anywhere else in Europe. Secondly, France has additional regulations, such as the principle of service time, on top of a body of EU legislation which operators in all countries already find too heavy and complicated. This means that "availability time", which is strictly counted as work in France, has an impact on potential working hours and driving time capacity. This is one of the main reasons why annual driving time in France is the lowest in Europe.

The daily allowances are usually set according to the country they are travelling through. In Eastern Europe, the rates set for travel to Western Europe are usually high, sometimes as much as €54 per day. A Czech driver, for example, will receive €45 per day when going through France or Germany, rising to €50 per day if travelling through Luxembourg or Scandinavia. Bulgaria imposes a minimum allowance of €27 per business day spent abroad in any EU country, with tax exemptions up to double that amount (€54 per day) permitted at the company's discretion. In practice, the allowances we observed are in the region of €42 per day for the typical profile surveyed.

Romania has a single rate of €35 per day for travel anywhere in the EU, but with the unusual feature that it is payable for any day the driver is on duty, even when not driving. It therefore covers weekends off spent out of the country, which are very frequent. Over a 7-day week spent abroad in which 5 days are worked, the rate is therefore equivalent to €49 per working day.

The French RFT sector has one of the highest daily rates in Europe, at €66 per 24hrs spent abroad. However, it is now very rare for French lorry drivers to do international work and the impact is therefore limited.

Germany stands out for its practice of relatively low allowance rates, especially for domestic work, at €24 per day. In the Eastern states, this rate for domestic work appears to have become the only rate many companies pay in practice as they seek to reduce their costs. Luxembourg's rate is even lower, at €23 per day spent abroad.

The total monthly amount of travel allowances in Western Europe was found to vary between €400 per month in Luxembourg and Eastern Germany to almost €800 in France, Belgium and Portugal and €900 in Italy.

In Spain and Eastern European countries, this component is worth around €1,000 per month. Hungary is an exception in the east, with allowances at around €640 per month. However, on top of the allowances, drivers receive a "green driving" bonus, which brings them up to a figure similar to other countries in the region.

As seen above, travel allowances are the highest in countries with the lowest salaries. At first sight, this might be viewed as wage-matching device. However, where these travel allowances account for the majority of the overall wage and are higher in absolute terms than those paid in countries with high wages, the issue of social dumping could be raised.

Are the living expenses of a driver from one of Europe's poorest countries really €54 per day when travelling with his sleeper berth in Germany or Luxembourg, while his local counterparts make do with €24 or €23 per day?

Perhaps the intention is not to reimburse expenses actually incurred, but more to supplement the driver's wages, as judged by the European Union Court of Justice. In its Ruling of 12 February 2015, the court ruled that the daily allowance paid to travelling workers is not intended to reimburse expenses they actually incur while on a trip, but is a special allowance for working away and is part of the minimum wage. However, if it is part of their salary, why does it not contribute to the social welfare funds?

In annualised figures, the total cost to a business of each of its international lorry drivers ranges from €55,810 per year in Belgium to €15,859 per year in Bulgaria. The more median trend is in the region of €45,000 per year in Western Europe and €20,000 per year in Eastern Europe. Portugal and some Eastern German states are closer to the Eastern averages.

However, in the new Member States, in Portugal and in some cases Spain, the personal accounts gathered during our field studies, especially from drivers interviewed at truck stops, point to quite different procedures for calculating wages. Drivers receive a fixed basic monthly salary close to the minimum wage, as described above, in addition to which their wages are topped up by a variable component, calculated according to one of the following:

    -  a bonus per kilometre (around €0.09 per km),

    -  a bonus per trip (e.g. just under €500 for a return trip from Lisbon to Berlin),

    -  a set bonus per country crossed when the journey comprises several trips between third countries.

The most common method is that of the bonus per kilometre. This is used in over 80% of cases and especially in Eastern Europe, while the bonus per trip is more common in Portugal and Spain.

Depending on the strictness of the on-site inspections of hauliers and the level of detail in the respective Member States' employment laws, the concept of working hours is equated to a greater or lesser extent with driving time. This means that in most cases, lorry drivers no longer use all the tachograph modes, but only "driving time" and "break/rest".

        .  some drivers, particularly in Western Europe, have got into the habit of using the "other work" setting, but only during loading and unloading operations. Others state that they make token use of the "other work" and "availability time" settings on a very limited basis, so that they can appear conscientious if inspected. For example, 48 hours' weekly work minus 45 hours' driving time leaves 3 hours for time spent on "other work". By devoting 3 hours to "other work", they can present the authorities with a disc that is "in order", without reducing their output, and in almost all countries without affecting their wages.

        -  use of the "availability time" mode is confined to ferry crossings or the equivalent. As explained above, this setting has almost no financial consequences except in France and Belgium and is therefore ignored by drivers in almost all other countries.

        -  drivers tend to prefer the "rest" setting to "availability time", as it legally allows them to break off from driving and set off again more quickly. Their main priority is to maximise their weekly or monthly driving time, at least where their pay is proportionate to the mileage covered.

The hourly cost of international driving within Europe therefore ranges from €8 to €33 per hour, making a fourfold difference between the highest and lowest.

The least costly of the sample are Bulgarian drivers, followed by most Eastern European countries, at around €10 per hour. Slovenia and Portugal coincide at approximately €13 per hour. Spain and the Eastern German states fall in the middle of the sample with costs of €19.5 and €16.6 per hour respectively, while for Western German states the cost is in the region of €25 per hour.

This gap of over 50% within the same country illustrates the flexibility of Germany's economy. The least economically developed states probably need this cost differential in order to attract investment, provide jobs in regions where unemployment is still high and combat competition from their immediate neighbours to the east.

The differences and gaps highlighted in this study are considerable and involve all aspects of international lorry drivers' employment and pay conditions: salaries, social security contributions, travel allowances, driving time and working hours. From the perspective of the drivers, who cross paths at the truck stops, these are more than mere figures. The Europe they perceive is not one of social solidarity, but one of competitiveness.

From the companies' perspective, these discrepancies concern the largest production cost for their road freight transport business (37% in France). The "cost of driving personnel" is therefore an objective factor that distorts competition in Europe.

In addition to wage gaps, which are naturally linked to the economic development gap between European countries, this study reveals other underlying differences, which may be summarised as follows:

    -  a lack of harmonisation regarding terms of pay (by the hour, by the kilometre, use of the tachograph, etc.);

    -  a lack of harmonisation regarding the composition of wages, in which the percentage of overall income exempt from social security contributions ranges from 10% to 76%;

    -  certain countries are exceptions to the European norm on a particular factor: Belgium on the rate of employers' social security contributions; France on driving time volume; Spain on the number and complexity of its collective agreements, etc.

Taken as a whole, the productivity gaps are enormous. The same hour's driving in the same lorry on the same road with the same goods can cost €8 per hour or €33 per hour depending on whether the driver is employed by a Bulgarian company or a Belgian company. This is not a negligible difference: it is a 4-fold gap.

Competitiveness gaps of this magnitude cannot exist in one marketplace. We can only confirm the theorem put forward by French economist Michel Albert, which essentially warns that any business based in a country with high living standards which employs primarily low-skilled labour is bound to either go bankrupt or move its operations elsewhere. For a significant number of EU Member States, the current situation in the international road freight transport single market is therefore untenable.

Business statistics on the European international RFT sector are a harsh reminder of this fact: countries like Italy, Belgium and France (which was Europe's leading RFT player 15 years ago) have been squeezed out of the market in the space of ten years. Again according to the statistics, the market has become hyper-concentrated around several countries: Poland alone has a 25% share of the EU market, while the 4 leading countries have captured 50% of business in the 28 Member States put together.

The fact that international competition laws have been put into practice so markedly and so rapidly within a liberalised RFT market is, of course, related to the inherent mobility of its "labour" factor of production.

As things stand in terms of competition relations, if the European cabotage market is opened up in the coming years, we should make no mistake that the same causes will lead to the same effects.

The goals set out in the EU's founding treaties of social "harmonisation while improvement is being maintained" and a level playing field in terms of competition conditions in Europe are still a major work in progress, at least in Europe's road freight transport sector.




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