Eight countries ask EU to halt trucking reforms amid pandemic

By Kate Abnett
FILE PHOTO: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kreuz Uckermark

By Kate Abnett

(Reuters) - Eight countries have asked the European Union to support road transport firms hit by the coronavirus outbreak and halt work on reforms to truck drivers' working conditions, which they said would leave vulnerable companies worse off.

In a letter seen by Reuters, transport ministers of Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Cyprus, Latvia, Malta and Romania said the EU should stand up for transport firms as it has already taken steps to help struggling airlines.

"Instead, we are on track of adopting the first Mobility Package whose provisions, combined with the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, will literally bring many European road transport businesses to an end," said the letter to the heads of the three main EU institutions.

Even before the pandemic, the same mainly eastern European nations were considering a legal challenge to the looming revamp of EU trucking rules, which they say would put their firms at a disadvantage by forcing them to send empty trucks home – causing excessive costs and extra carbon emissions.

Wealthier nations including France and the Netherlands support the reforms, alongside workers' unions who say it would make jobs in Europe's trucking sector more attractive.

"It will facilitate the drivers' regular return home, addressing one of the major causes for driver shortage - notably the poor work-life balance the sector is notorious for," Livia Spera, general secretary of trade union group the European Transport Workers' Federation, told Reuters.

The new rules would force trucks to return to home countries every eight weeks, give drivers the right to return home every four weeks, and require drivers to spend rest periods outside their vehicle – with employers shouldering the cost of accommodation.

A majority of EU countries and the European Parliament struck a deal in December on the reforms. The 27-member bloc had planned to sign off on the rules at a meeting on March 24, but coronavirus pushed that off the agenda.

Road transport, which accounts for 75% of freight shipments within the EU, has been disrupted by the pandemic as countries have imposed emergency checks at normally open frontiers, resulting in pile-ups of trucks and waiting times of more than 24 hours to cross some of the bloc's internal borders.

The EU executive has urged countries to put in place "green lanes" to let fresh produce and medical supplies skip traffic jams.


(Editing by Gabriela Baczynska/Andrew Cawthorne/Susan Fenton)