Professional drivers cannot spend their weekly rest periods in their trucks, confirms the European Court of Justice

2017-Dec-21

20th of December 2017 will be a memorable day for the road transport sector as the European Court of Justice confirmed that the EU driving and rest time rules forbid drivers to spend their weekly rest periods in their vehicles. What is weekly rest in road transport? These are periods of 45 or 66 hours taken en block by drivers, during which they can freely dispose of their time! These periods are meant to relieve driver’s fatigue and ensure safety of road users, be they drivers or passengers.

A few years ago the European Commission used to share the same view as expressed in the ECJ ruling – see for instance an EC clarification minuted in a report of a meeting with the EU Member States in 2012! But that is no longer the case. What prompted the Commission to switch from one extreme to another in interpreting an EU regulation whose main aim is to improve drivers’ working conditions and road safety?

Well, in 2015, part of a plan to curve social dumping and fraud in road transport, Belgium and France started controlling and sanctioning companies forcing their drivers to take weekly rest periods in trucks. This caused total havoc among road transport operators who urged the European Commission to do something about it. The Commission attempted to take legal action against Belgium and France but it soon realised this would be a lost case!

But then bingo! Another opportunity popped up: to use the Mobility Package to amend the driving and rest time rules in such a way as to allow business more flexibility in playing around with rest periods. Indeed, on 31 May 2017 the Commission published a proposal enabling road operators to postpone the weekly rest periods for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks, the driver would be given a week off. This would enable the employer to recuperate the vehicle and man it with another ‘fresh’ driver while having no obligation to accommodate or pay travel expenses to send home the driver who finished his 3-week ‘shift’.

What now?

The ECJ ruling will particularly impact those road hauliers recruiting drivers from low-income countries and making them work for extensive periods of time away from home. All these years, the hauliers in question have been taking advantage of the fact their drivers had nowhere to stay during week-ends in the country where they worked, and thus made them sleep in trucks, basically using them as guards for freight and vehicles, night and day, and at week-ends. Moreover, spending the week-end in the truck meant the driver was ready to set off early Monday morning, as soon as the rest period was over. This practice is now over with, and the ETF hopes Member States will now start controlling and sanctioning weekly rest periods spent in vehicles.

The ETF will next contact all relevant enforcement services across the EU to urge them to sanction employers, and not drivers for infringements relating to weekly rest periods. The ETF will also keep an eye on the Mobility Package debates and will accept no step back and no change in the driving and rest time rules that may undermine what we have gained with this court decision.

The ECJ ruling is more than mere jurisprudence, it is a first sign of a Europe who cares about people! We expect no less from our politicians: to adopt a Package of laws that gives real protection to our truck, bus and coach drivers!

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