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Cabotage and social dumping: the war is on!

Road transport

... But tensions between transporters and the government seem to have eased. New resources allocated

Paolo Castiglia

Transporters and the government have called for a cease-fire: threats of a general strike seem to have been averted. Under the spotlight a 70% reduction of undocumented expenses for owner drivers recently emerged in a circular letter from the national Revenue Agency. But the government recently announced a 35 million euro refinancing of this provision.

Not new money, though, but a shift of resources from other funds allocated to road transport: € 25 million from incentives for investment and € 10 million from motorway tolls discounts. "Finally a positive answer" - explained Amedeo Genedani, president of Confartigianato Transporti and Unatras, which brings together the largest associations of the category.

Another important issue relates to contrasting cabotage practices and driver social dumping, performed by many foreign companies, especially from East Europe. The Government has announced three new regulations, which will be the focus of discussions in the coming days.

There is a need for clarity also as far as the Sistri (waste tracking system) is concerned, as well as facilitating combined road-sea transport. Transport associations, in particular, have been calling for a suspension of the waste tracking system contributions. So far, no definitive answer has been given by the Ministry of Transport. Furthermore, Government representatives guarantee that they are promoting new forms of incentives at European levels. But for concrete measures we will have to wait until at least the end of 2016.

The issue of cabotage has also been the focus of transport unions’ policies, as well as at a recent convention, with drivers’ social dumping taking the center stage. We need more stringent rules and inspections. After admitting that "this distorted phenomenon is destroying our national transport sector," CISL general secretary, Giovanni Luciano, recently announced a European initiative aimed at contrasting this negative practice. During the conference, a few noteworthy personalities were seen, such as French MP Gilles Savary, promoter of the recent law against prolonged resting periods, and Roberto Parrillo, president of ETF’s road transport section, currently operating at European level to guarantee labor protection against unfair competition.

“As far as we are concerned we asked, again, to review those European regulations that allow up to three cabotage trips and that we feel are far too generous” says Luciano. “In addition, we also pointed out that, in our opinion, control levels and sanctions are just not effective enough. We feel that there is a need to tighten inspection procedures and clamp down on  those companies that are systematically found braking the rules with heavy sanctions and black lists. Furthermore, we just do not understand why technology isn’t used in this field, for example GPS systems. Nowadays this technology is widely available and affordable and would contrast such practices as tampering with tachographs”. 

Pasquale Paniccia, FIT CISL national secretary, pointed to the positive example of the French legislation: "Too many companies are closing and it is not just because of the crisis. The industry’s rules are just not working. We need to look at the positive examples from countries like France, that is looking at finding real solutions for an ongoing issue, and join them in calling for real changes at European level". The union reaffirmed its stance against a greater liberalization of the transport sector in Europe: “During the past European Legislature, transport unions were able to hinder an attempt to further liberalize the sector”, stated Maurizio Diamante, national transport coordinator. “What we fear, at this point though, is that someone will try the same during the current parliament term. What the sector needs are fundamental rules aimed at safeguarding the entire supply chain and add value to the professionalism of those companies that follow the rules”.

France, on the other hand, continues in its battle against illegal cabotage and social dumping. Following heavy sanctions, in 2014, against drivers spending their weekly rest on the truck, the French Government has decided to follow in the footsteps of the German Government with new guidelines for the road transport sector. These regulate activities of foreign road transport companies when operating on French soil, and foreign-based drivers must receive the French minimum wage.

At the moment the Law – named Macron after the Minister who proposed it December 10 last year – is being discussed by the National Assembly. The text provides also for a number of measures to promote business development and increase citizens’ purchasing power. During the debate, the Government itself proposed an amendment on transport, which imposes a Salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance (Smic), that is, a minimum wage for foreign drivers operating in France. The wage plan provides for a gross amount of 9,61 euro per hour. Once approved, if approved, the Law will still need to consider a number of amendments to the current regulations, therefore some time will still be needed for it to come into force.

French transport associations FNTR, TLF and UNOSTRA consider this a "market protection measure". They emphasize that this amendment is the government's response to two issues raised by trucking companies sometime ago, namely lack of competitiveness and unfair competition brought about by foreign carriers. Nevertheless, the three associations insist that unless these measures are adopted at European level, such issues are not likely to be resolved.

Specifically, two courses of action are required: redefining the rules on road cabotage and "an open discussion" on labor mobility. On cabotage, FNTR, TLF and UNOSTRA called for a further limitation to the number and duration of trips granted to foreign carriers.



Transport and the Internet’s crucial role 

Technology applied to the transport sector is a resource that involves more than just an economic perspective. Trip management can be improved through hi-tech devices able to supply vital data such as average speed, fuel consumption and resting times, not to mention development projects related to road infrastructures: automatic road lighting systems, de-icing during winter months and “self-healing asphalt”. The world of transport and Internet will be inevitably connected in the next few years, in order to make travelling more efficient and sustainable. Mary Meeker, American analyst, recently produced the Internet Trends Report 2016, where she describes the current trends on the use of Internet and hi-tech devices in general. The research shows that the transport sector will undergo profound changes within the next 10 years thanks to the web. In fact, it is estimated that, by 2020, connected vehicles will grow by 30%, with 237 million vehicles able to interact, or establish links, between them in order to guarantee an improved driving experience and travelling management.  

The word "link" can also mean exchange of data between moving vehicles and the existing infrastructures, a range of information on road conditions, accidents, alternative routes, to facilitate vehicle circulation and increase transport efficiency and safety.

Internet is the right tool to create a meeting point between operators, increasing their business opportunities in a reliable and secure manner. Wtransnet, from Spain, has always believed in the opportunities represented by web. The creation of its Freight and Truck Exchange, in 1996,  a networking platform for the transport and logistics sector is a clear evidence of this. With Wtransnet technologies, a simple click on a computer, a tablet or a smartphone, will create a series of contacts between drivers, carriers and companies making it possible to quickly find a load or a carrier and reduce empty running.

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