Dear Mr Cramer, Dear Ms Ulvskog
Dear Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Dear Mr Buffetaut,
Dear Members of the Economic and Social Committee,
Dear Social Partners,
I am very glad that so many of you have come today for the launch of the Social Agenda for Transport. Welcome to you all!
Transport is about people
Transport is an essential driver for our economy which relies on communication and exchanges, for growth and jobs. But transport is not only about infrastructure and vehicles such as the beautiful ones exposed here in the Autoworld. Transport is, above all, about people's daily life: be it a mean to commute to work or go on holidays, a mean deliver goods to them and to connect them.
Citizens are the ultimate recipients of transport services and transport services can only be provided thanks to people, the 11 million European women and men working in the transport sector - almost half of them working in road transport.
We are gathered today to reflect on how to concretely address together the social challenges that these 11 million workers face – on what we can do together to set conditions for a successful European economy and to the benefit of workers, citizens and businesses.
Dear Participants, please allow me to walk you through the major topics of today's event and some of the core challenges we need to address.
Making transport an attractive sector for workers
The first challenge is to ensure that transport remains an attractive sector for workers in the future. A second one is to offer to workers the necessary qualifications and' skills.
Transport workers are ageing: a third of them are over 50 years old. How can we attract young people to the sector ?
The 3d challenge: Transport work features are specific and some are perceived negatively. Working times are often irregular and many transport mobile workers have to cope with long absences from home. Work autonomy in transport is relatively low. Problems caused by heavy physical work have been replaced by stress derived from time-pressures. Transport is also considered to include certain risks and sometimes to be a dangerous activity.
Considering all these aspects, how can we make, Benjamin 16, living in Berlin, choose to become a train driver? How can we make Maria, 17, living in Madrid even envisage a transport carrier path so difficult to reconcile with family life?
While that should of course also be a question for Benjamin, it's a sad fact that only 22 % of workers in the transport sector are women. This figure is well below the figure for the overall economy, with 46 % of women who work in all the economic sectors.
Problems are encountered also in the comparatively more attractive aviation sector. How can Nicolas, 20, living in Toulouse and dreaming to become a pilot afford to pay for his flight hours if he is subject to the so called pay-to-fly scheme?
The 4th challenge relates to technologies and innovation: The transport workforce also needs to adapt to be able to make the best possible use of the opportunities offered by technological innovation and the increased use of digital technologies. This trend affects all transport sectors. For instance, the driver's cabin of a high speed train becomes increasingly similar to an aircraft cockpit. Ships have also more and more sophisticated technology on board. We already know about driverless metros but driverless trucks may also soon become a reality.
How can Brecht, 50, docker in Rotterdam, keep a job which no longer looks like the one for which he was originally trained and recruited?
How do we ensure that training institutes provide the right education and training and the appropriate lifelong learning programmes to match tomorrow's needs?
All these are the questions for which I hope we will find tangible answers and the challenges that are waiting to be addressed during our first Workshop.
Improving employment and working conditions
Another challenge (6th) that we face is how to improve employment and working conditions. This will, in turn, have a positive effect on the attractiveness of transport, as well.
An extensive social legislation is already in place in the transport sector. However, enforcement of existing rules is sometimes difficult. In addition, the current economic situation has led to increased competition and pressure to reduce costs, and the development of dubious employment practices such as letter box companies or fake self-employment. Social dumping has become a critical issue.
Too often, truck drivers like Radu, 30, from Bucarest, are hired through a very complex mix of companies, subsidiaries, agencies based in different EU Member States, some of which have no real existence. As a result, they are hired at the lowest possible cost and they are not protected whenever problems arise.
Under the second Workshop of the Conference dedicated to employment and working conditions, we will address not only the question of how to deal with these complex new legal constructions, but we will also focus on very concrete matters concerning real life situations.
For instance, should Andrzej, 40, a truck driver from Warsaw, sleep in his cabin when spending his weekly rest time abroad? Some Member States have decided to sanction such practices, but do they offer adequate alternatives? Should Andrzej be subject to different rules depending on whether he takes his weekly rest in Belgium or in Slovenia?
These are very concrete and common questions I receive during my contacts with Member States and when talking to local business communities.
Finding European solutions to European Challenges
Another road transport issue (7th) has made the headlines of the last few months. Can a Member State impose a minimal wage to foreign road transport carriers operating on its territory? We need to strike the right balance between social and internal market concerns and make sure that agreed rules are implemented in practice. While we support the establishment of a minimum wage, the Commission has decided to invite the German government to further reflect how their proposed rules can avoid disproportionate administrative burden and be made compatible with fundamental EU freedoms, such as the right to provide services and the free movement of goods.
I believe that we should reflect at EU level on these issues to avoid the fragmentation of the internal market. We need to move away from uncoordinated national initiatives and work more on coherent European responses.
Giving an new impetus to social dialogue
8th challenge: improve the dialogue between social partners at EU level. When it comes to the transport social agenda, social partners have a special status. This is why we give them the floor in our third Workshop. They are the best placed to come up with new consensual initiatives and to improve the application of existing rules. EU Social partners are already active in all transport sectors with success stories such as agreements on working times in the maritime and inland waterways fields. Our aim today is to see how best to use their expertise at EU level to address our main challenges. We should also see whether synergies between sectors can be further developed.
What is the objective of today's conference?
I am aware that social expectations have not always been met in the past. Not all social actions listed in 2011 in the White paper on transport have yet been achieved.
However, I am confident that we will today give a new perspective to the transport social Agenda and to the Social Dialogue. Rather than looking backwards I would like us to look forward and come up with solutions for the future, that are inclusive and sustainable..
While acknowledging that some of you may list others, today my colleagues and I would like to collect YOUR views on the main social challenges that I have just presented.
We want to give you the floor to brainstorm on possible concrete short, medium or long term actions. All ideas are welcome, even those that seem today to be outside the box! Obviously, considering our legal constraints, we might only be able to address some of the issues under EU law but this is not the only way forward. I believe that enforcement is probably the key issue in this field. Together, we have to find ways to improve enforcement both at national and at EU level. We can also take informal steps such as the sharing of good practices across transport sectors and across countries.
Priority given to social issues
Social issues are high on the Agenda of the Juncker Commission, for all sectors of the economy. In his political guidelines he committed to "ensure that social dumping has no place in the European Union". Commissioner Thyssen in charge of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour mobility and I are working together to fulfil this objective but we need your help..
During my mandate as Transport Commissioner, I am committed to achieving results in this field, taking into account its specificities. I will work on these issues in close cooperation with my colleague, Ms Thyssen, with the European Parliament - represented today by several Members including the Chairs of the relevant Parliamentary Committees, Mr Cramer and Ms Ulvskog -, with Social Partners and of course with Member States who are also represented today and will intervene this afternoon.
My services have already started working.
The mid-term review of the White paper will look at what progress has been achieved so far in relation to our social ambitions, and how best to move forward.
The aviation strategy to be issued later this year will consider how to address new business models and new types of job in the aviation sector and how to avoid forum-shopping for lower social standards and the creation of protectionist barriers which affect the aviation industry competitiveness.
An ex-post evaluation of social legislation in road transport is on-going. The upcoming road package should incorporate any changes to social rules proven necessary by this evaluation.
Today's debates can bring a solid contribution to these works. Let's make this day count!
I thank you all very much for your participation and wish you a fruitful discussion.