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02/07/2012
BATTLES AND HOPES

ROAD TRANSPORT

Road transport has felt the crisis more than any other sector, but in recent months there has been very positive dialogue with the Government.

Paolo Castiglia

A VERY tough recession for the road transport sector and for all the other sectors in Italy’s manufacturing world. An economic crisis that has touched the entire transport supply chain, but when faced with this reality, for once there has been constructive dialogue in recent months between the Government and the trade associations - apart from isolated demonstrations that were more announced than implemented. And all this after the agreements that had been reached between the road hauliers and the Ministry of Transport on 11 January - which in fact led to the halting of the strike announced by Unatras - had been substantially respected. 

Also making an appearance (finally! shouted the trade associations that are part of Unatras) was the inter-ministerial decree for the application of fines pursuant to article 83 bis of Law 133 of 6  August 2008. “Four very long years of battles with the contractors’ representatives” –  explained Unatras chairman, Francesco del Boca, who, in his role also as chairman of Confartigianato Trasporti and UETR, the European road hauliers association, has an overall vision of the problems that range from the small firm to large European fleets. Del Boca explained that it was the contractors who “opposed the correct application of the regulation with every means at their disposal: evidently, the small amount of money lost in earnings is much more important than the safety of the whole, and therefore the policy must safeguard the interests of 99% of small-medium Italian firms that also include hauliers, firms that, like it or not, represent a sector that is vital for the country”. 

As far as economic incentives are concerned, Del Boca has seen signs of an easing of tension and of satisfaction because, in his words, “they were successfully concluded and have already been applied, with the exception of those for reducing motorway tolls because of the atavistic slowness in making available sums that have been specifically allocated for some time now. It is to be hoped that in the future, given the firms’ sporadic need of cash, the funds will become available more quickly so that businesses will have them in the shortest time possible”.

In the meantime, the correct application of the new regulation is being discussed at technical meetings which should identify the days on which heavy vehicles are forbidden to circulate. In this regard, what must be borne in mind is the disparity compared with the majority of other European countries, which generates unfair competition for our hauliers, and the current critical economic crisis that has taken not only heavy vehicles off the roads and motorways but cars as well. According to Del Boca this is proof that “these bans do not in fact benefit anyone and consequently there is no valid reason for their continued existence. We hope, therefore, that an amendment of the old decree will substantially reduce the number of days that heavy vehicles are banned from the roads”. 

But there are still many concerns about the future of the road transport sector and we discussed this with Paolo Uggè, chairman of FAI-Conftrasporto, who recently accepted a highly responsible role: he has been appointed coordinator of the National Road Safety Commission set up at the National Council for the Economy and Labour (CNEL) in actuation of the agreement between CNEL and the Ministry for Infrastructures and Transport. Prime Minister Monti recently confirmed Uggè as one of the two experts on the Council of Ministers appointed to CNEL. “As an expert on the transport sector” – Uggè explained – “I was already one of the four members of the CNEL Road Safety Commission coordination office, but from now on I will be the national coordinator”. The task of the CNEL Commission – he went on to explain – “is to create, in coordination with the Ministry for Infrastructures and Transport, a system for the various initiatives oriented towards increasing the value of road safety in all mobility sectors”. It is an important and delicate undertaking – the chairman of FAI stated – given that CNEL has the authority to propose laws, if any interesting regulatory proposals for the transport sector should emerge from the Commission and if CNEL adopts them, the proposals themselves could be presented to Parliament”. 

Apropos of the crisis, according to Uggè  “it is up to the Government to communicate what it intends to do about the sector in the spending review, as it has done for other issues, and, above all, what are the real possibilities of a response to the expectations that are being prompted. Empty statements that do not coincide with reality cannot be left unanswered. But the word of a representative of the Government is one thing, that of representatives of the federations is another”. To maintain, therefore, that the category’s problems can be resolved with decisive action “is not realistic” – according to Uggè. The function of a union representative, he continued “is not to call his members out on strike every three months, but to negotiate, discuss and explain in order to achieve results. This fully demonstrates how useful the Committee can be if it is also allowed to carry out this role that was at the basis of the reasons for which it was established”. 

It is undeniable that road transport firms are suffering and Uggè made the following statement: “We must find solutions that produce the biggest possible results with the least effort, but finding concrete solutions is not simple: Community regulations are leaving national governments with increasingly less room to manoeuvre and the operational differences, which affect all of us, lead to margins being sought primarily amongst those who use the roads and have to bear uncontainable costs”. 

What must be avoided is a “war by the poor” that is vented on third-party safety. “This is why we believe” -  Paolo Uggè concluded – “that the answer to the uncontainable costs of safety must be an appropriate answer and this has been confirmed by the sentences that to date have recognized the rights of road transporters: we must reinforce the regulations, perhaps, and ensure that they are applied, because challenging them would mean, especially with a technical government, leaving the door open for anyone who does not want to have his hands tied and would reopen discussions. In other words, we believe it is more useful to try to make the system work and guarantee that the rules are kept in order avoid the systematic exploitation of the category and the circumvention and infringement of the laws”.

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