Trucking rules maligned by Maltese industry adopted by European Parliament

Parliament backs revised rules to improve drivers’ working conditions and stop distortion of competition in road transport

MEPs have endorsed three pieces of legislation – without any amendments – on the posting of drivers, drivers’ driving times and rest periods and better enforcement of cabotage rules.

The rules have been vehemently opposed by Malta and Eastern European nations, criticised as protectionist rules that will affect the cost for the transport of goods by non-resident hauliers in member states.

MEPs who pushed through the rules insisted that the laws will end the distortion of competition in the road transport sector and provide better rest conditions for drivers.

Malta’s MEPs tried to influence the rules in the transport committee but their amendments were not backed by key MEPs. Transport minister Ian Borg has also been criticised for not taking up meaningful action two years in advance.

Industry leaders in Malta have insisted the new rules will mean an increase of 10% in costs, that will ultimately be reflected in consumer prices.

The new rules ensure better rest conditions by forcing drivers to spend more time at home. That means companies have to organise their timetables so that drivers in international freight transport return home every three or four weeks, depending on the work schedule.

They will also be forbidden from taking their mandatory regular weekly rest in the truck cab. If this rest period is taken away from home, the company must pay for accommodation costs.

Former MEP candidate Peter Agius, who has been vocal on this matter, said the experience had been a textbook case of how not to lobby Malta’s case in Europe.

“The government intervened once it was way too late. Had Malta lobbied this case before, it would have had a good chance of factoring in provisions to protect peripheral economies. Now, our consumers and our business will have to face the consequence of government incompetence.”

The new rules will enter into force in a few weeks, adding costs to freight operators to and from Malta, and putting Malta’s export efforts at a disadvantage.

“From US studies it is estimated that freight cost is on average 18% of price cost so we should brace ourselves for a perceptible price hike on imported raw materials and most consumer goods.

“Hopefully we can take a lesson out of this, that pitching Malta’s case in Europe requires more investment in foresight of EU developments and much wider consultation with stakeholders. Unfortunately for the Labour government, Europe is largely immune to its posturing of perfectly coordinated press conferences and photos but requires foot-soldiering efforts to propose reasoned alternatives in good time.”

Fairer competition and fighting illegal practices

Vehicle tachographs will be used to register border-crossings in order to tackle fraud. To prevent systematic cabotage, there will be a cooling-off period of four days before more cabotage operations can be carried out within the same country with the same vehicle.

To fight the use of letterbox companies, road haulage businesses would need to be able to demonstrate that they are substantially active in the member state in which they are registered. The new rules will also require trucks to return to the company’s operational centre every eight weeks. Using light commercial vehicles of over 2.5 tonnes will also be subject to EU rules for transport operators, including equipping the vans with a tachograph.

Clear rules on posting of drivers to ensure equal pay

The new rules will give a clear legal framework to prevent differing national approaches and ensure fair remuneration for drivers. Posting rules will apply to cabotage and international transport operations, excluding transit, bilateral operations and bilateral operations with two extra loading or unloading.

The rules on posting will apply 18 months after the entry into force of the legal act. The rules on rest times, including the return of drivers, will apply 20 days after publication of the act. Rules on return of trucks and other changes to market access rules will apply 18 months after the entry into force of the act on market access.