PARIS (Reuters) - French truck drivers blocked traffic at border crossings with Spain, Italy and Belgium on Tuesday in protest over cut-price competition in the road-freight industry.
French truckers are angry that an agreement reached by EU member states on Oct. 23 to limit the amount of time workers can be “posted” from one EU country to another does not cover the road transport sector.
As a result, French truckers face being priced out by drivers from other EU member states, especially east Europe, Spain and Portugal, who are willing to do fixed-term work for lower pay than French drivers might normally receive.
“Widening gaps in pay and conditions endanger French firms and workers,” said Pascal Favre, a member of the Force Ouvriere labour union who was among truckers protesting in southwest France, near the border with Spain.
“(There are) those who work for lower pay because they spend more time behind the wheel on jobs the French do not do because of unfair competition.”
The “posted workers” issue effectively pits wealthier EU countries against poorer peers like Poland and Bulgaria, whose skilled workers are keen to move around the EU on fixed-term contracts, earning more than they would do at home but often undercutting workers in the host country.
The number of workers posted to France from other EU countries rose 23.8 percent to 354,151 in 2016, after a similar jump the preceding year, according to a government count cited by the business newspaper Les Echos on Tuesday.
Emmanuel Macron made the issue part of his presidential campaign, saying he would fight to protect workers from unfair competition. While he managed to forge agreement among the EU’s 28 states for some adjustments to the rules, transportation workers were not included.
About 200 French truckers took part in the protest at the northern border crossing into Rekkem in Belgium, waving cars through but halting trucks, a local police official said.
Traffic on the main motorway from the French city of Lille to the Belgian city of Ghent was disrupted by another trucker protest in the region for a few hours early in the day.
Traffic through the Frejus tunnel to Italy in the southeast was similarly disrupted, as were some crossings with Spain.
It wasn’t immediately clear how great the economic impact of the protests would be, although they were not expected to continue beyond Tuesday.
Reporting by Claude Canellas, Jean-Francois Rosnoblet, Pierre Savary and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Brian Love; Edited by Luke Baker