Truck drivers who were striking in Gräfenhausen, Germany, brought their collective action to a successful conclusion on Friday (September 29). In a historic victory the drivers will receive money owed to them and Polish consortium Lukmaz, Agmaz and Imperia has agreed to forfeit legal action against them.
The company had pressed criminal charges and a civil claim against the drivers who were on strike at the rest area near Gräfenhausen for over ten weeks following a similar collective action in April.
The Gräfenhausen drivers come from Uzbekistan, Georgia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and other countries outside of the European Union (EU) yet work for Mazur Group driving in Western Europe transporting goods in the supply chain of large multinational companies. Their strike was sparked by Mazur Group’s exploitative working conditions The drivers held ranks for over 10 weeks and even weathered a six-day hunger strike.
The ITF and ETF have supported the strike since its beginning. On the ground, the Road Transport Due Diligence Foundation (RTDD), Fair Mobility, and German unions DGB and ver.di provided concrete assistance to the drivers and facilitated the resolution of the strike.
The Gräfenhausen strike has again brought to light problems endemic in European road transport and more specifically the problems faced by cross-border drivers in Europe, particularly third-country nationals from outside of the EU. The extremely poor working conditions of third country nationals is evidence of the structural shortcomings of the road transport sector, and the unsustainable business model it is built on. The campaign for justice for these drivers has also highlighted the responsibility of multinational road transport customers for labour and human rights abuses in their supply chains.
Edwin Atema, from the Road Transport Due Diligence Foundation, who has been on the ground at Gräfenhausen said: “The longest and most international truck drivers' strike Europe has ever seen has ended. All claims and charges that have been made against the Gräfenhausen drivers have been withdrawn and money has been paid."
“These drivers were invisible in the European road transport supply chains, but now have led the way to fundamental changes. Not invisible anymore, but invincible. All drivers in Europe and responsible companies can thank the Gräfenhausen drivers for the win they’ve delivered.”
The strike also attracted the attention of the EU Commissioner on Social Rights, the German Federal Ministry of Labour and the German Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA). BAFA is mandated with the enforcement of the German Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains, which puts obligations on companies to prevent and mitigate human rights abuses in their supply chains. BAFA has begun an inquiry into German companies who had the involved Polish transport companies in their supply chain. The BAFA also called a crisis summit on October 16 to discuss the pandemic of exploitation in road transport with unions and industry representatives.
ETF General Secretary Livia Spera said: "The drivers at Gräfenhausen have demonstrated that when workers organise, their rights are more likely to be respected. But they also shed light on the issue of exploitation of third-country nationals in the road transport industry, revealing the need for rigorous monitoring of their employment conditions, legal status and the operators’ adherence to social rules, regardless of their position within the supply chain.”
Spera said that this strike sets an example and underscores the need for systematic inspections of supply chains operating in Europe. While this is a significant step forward, the fight for dignity and respect for all drivers continues.
“The unity shown by the Gräfenhausen drivers is a huge inspiration to all of us,” said Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary. “At the same time, these drivers have demonstrated there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done to fix the structural problems in European road transport. The ITF is committed to supporting the process to ensure accountability across European road transport and commend the German supply chain authority BAFA for their swift intervention in calling a crisis summit. We stand ready to work with any government or company committed to fixing the industry.”