Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund

Philippine lorry drivers receive back pay

The Dutch FNV-VNB foundation, which is close to the trade unions, had researched the opaque working conditions of the Danish company Kurt Baier for months. The FNV-VNB team led by Edwin Atema, once a driver himself and now a trans-European activist for better working conditions for long-distance drivers, had collected evidence that the firm recruits lorry drivers from third countries, such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines, via a Polish letterbox company and exploits them under the most miserable conditions. This is no isolated case on Europe's roads. Many drivers who do not come from the EU are formally employed in Poland; this is possible thanks to bilateral agreements with certain third countries.

Once they arrive in Poland, however, the drivers merely board a minibus and are then transported to their actual place of work in Western Europe. In the case of the Philippine men, their actual place of work and residence was in the Sauerland region, in Ense, near Dortmund. Here, they lived in their lorries and on the car park of the German client. The employees of Fair Mobility and their Dutch colleague Edwin Atema are now well acquainted with what is initially difficult for outsiders to understand: subcontractor chains are also common practice in the logistics sector. Wages can thus be reduced, because Eastern European contracts often only provide for a basic salary, one that is based on the minimum wage – albeit the minimum wage in the employer's country, in this case Poland. Besides this, there are expenses that are duty-free and tax-exempt. Overall, the wage paid is up to €1,000 below what a driver could earn on the basis of the German statutory minimum wage. In addition, there are no sufficient rest periods, holiday entitlements and social security benefits that drivers would be entitled to under German law.

The working conditions encountered by the trade unionists at their first meeting with Philippine drivers in November 2018 exceeded the expected and now very common miserable conditions in the industry: drivers had not seen any accommodation outside their lorry during their entire term of employment in Europe. They had been living in their vehicles for months, always in pairs. They cooked as best they could outdoors, washed their laundry in old tubs on the pavement of the car park, and had to spend their weekends with no running water. In addition, both their basic salary and expenses were still far below what trade unionists are normally familiar with from pay slips under Polish contracts.

“IN THE CASE OF THE PHILIPPINE MEN, THEIR ACTUAL PLACE OF WORK AND RESIDENCE WAS IN THE SAUERLAND REGION, IN ENSE, NEAR DORTMUND.”

Early in November 2018, the situation escalated because the police became aware of the situation of the drivers and stopped the lorries. The German client then cancelled the transport order. It quickly became clear that promises had been made to the drivers when they were recruited in the Philippines, which had not been kept: the Danish recruiter had shown them a film in the Philippines about the job in Poland, in which they had been promised adequate accommodation and proper payment. But in Europe they received neither accommodation nor a fair salary. On top of that, the drivers had to borrow several thousand euros to be allowed to start working in Europe.

Stefan Körzell, member of the executive board of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), and the Dutch sister trade union filed criminal charges for wage extortion, labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking. The complaint was directed against the Danish transport company Kurt Beier and its alleged Polish subsidiary HBT Transporte. While the Danish, Polish and Dutch authorities investigated the initial suspicion after similar reports and offered protection to the Philippine drivers deployed in these countries, the responsible public prosecutor's office in Germany did not even summon the men concerned as witnesses. Obviously, the competent authorities in Germany and the three other countries had and have different opinions on how the labour and human rights violations in this case should be assessed. The fact that the responsible public prosecutor's office in Germany did not intensify the criminal prosecution of the employers involved meant that the tough and costly struggle for the drivers' rights and claims became a race against time. After all, the residence rights of these lorry drivers were ultimately tied to the employment contract with the Polish letterbox company.

"WHILE THE DANISH, POLISH AND DUTCH AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATED THE INITIAL SUSPICION AFTER SIMILAR REPORTS AND OFFERED PROTECTION TO THE PHILIPPINE DRIVERS DEPLOYED IN THESE COUNTRIES, THE RESPONSIBLE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE IN GERMANY DID NOT EVEN SUMMON THE MEN CONCERNED AS WITNESSES.”

As the drivers had constantly left the premises of the German client in North Rhine-Westphalia and had usually returned there, it was clear to all those involved that they were at least entitled to the statutory minimum wage applicable in Germany. The trade unionists calculated that the Polish letterbox company owed the drivers between €1,000 and €2,000 for each month worked.

To this day, the employer has ignored the wage demands made of him. On the basis of general contractor liability, the trade unionists approached the German employer, who ultimately assumed responsibility for the loss of wages of these men who had, in the meantime, become members of ver.di (the United Services Union).

This positive conclusion was an important signal for other drivers in a similar situation: even in this sector, it is also possible to defend oneself against exploitative forms of employment.

Contact

DGB Bildungswerk Bund
Michaela Dälken
Hans-Böckler-Straße 39, 40476 Düsseldorf
E-mail michaela.daelken@dgb-bildungswerk.de
Telephone +49 211 4301-198

 

DGB-Projekt Faire Mobilität
Dominique John
Kapweg 4, 13405 Berlin
E-mail mobilitaet@dgb.de
Telephone +49 30 21240540

Service

Funding

This publication has received financial support from the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Innovation “EaSI” (2014-2020). The information contained in this publication does not necessarily reflect the official position of the European Commission.