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To unions’ dismay, EU Parliament backs new rules on tour bus driver breaks
By Sean Goulding Carroll, Euractiv 12 Dec 2023
Dec 14, 2023 - 2:48:42 PM

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The European Parliament agreed its stance on new rules defining the minimum rest periods for tour bus drivers on Tuesday (12 December), earning applause from industry and criticism from workers’ groups.

The updated rules affect those who work in the so-called “occasional transport sector”, such as tour bus drivers hired to complete a specific journey. It does not regulate bus drivers who drive on a regular schedule.

The update to the regulation on required breaks was adopted by 477 votes to 101, with 41 abstensions, with the final text reflecting the position agreed in Parliament’s transport committee.

Under the new text, bus and coach drivers will have more flexibility in how they take their breaks.

Currently, drivers are obliged to take a 45-minute break for every four and a half hours of driving. Under the new rules, this can be split into two breaks of at least 15 minutes each, in a configuration of the drivers’ choice.

If driving on a tour of at least six days, drivers may also choose to postpone their rest period by one hour, so long as the total driving time for that day has not exceeded seven hours, once per trip.

Under the existing rules, tours crossing borders can postpone their weekly rest period for up to 12 days. MEPs backed a measure to apply these rules to national services in addition to international services.

To better ensure that rest periods are enforced, MEPs want to see an online interface created where operators can upload their digital journey forms. Such forms would be accessible to authorities during roadside checks, displaying the driving times and rest periods.

Henna Virkkunen of the centre-right EPP group, the lead lawmaker on the file, said the Parliament’s position would help drivers “to better respond to changing circumstances and passenger needs, while respecting road safety and proper working conditions”.

In the run up to the vote, industry complained that the current rules do not reflect the reality of transporting passengers, instead mirroring freight journeys. Passengers, for example, may pressure drivers not to stop for their 45 minute rest period, unaware of the legal obligation to do so.

“Flexibility is in the essence of those services and it is the reason why the passengers chose that service and not the regular service,” Virkkunen told lawmakers ahead of the vote, adding that “transporting people is very different to transporting goods”.

However, the Greens portrayed the addition of flexibility to driver rest times as a means to squeeze more out of workers, particularly as the road transport industry is facing an acute shortage of drivers.

MEP Ciarán Cuffe, the Green lead on the file, said the message sent by Parliament with today’s vote is “negligent and counterproductive”.

“The more we loosen the rules intended to protect drivers, the more drivers will leave the sector, and the more acute the driver shortage will be,” Cuffe told Euractiv.

“I’m afraid of the impact these changes will have on the sector, and what this means for road safety,” he added.

Socialists in the Parliament also expressed concerns that unscrupulous operators could put pressure on drivers to curtail their breaks further, such as having only two 15 minute breaks rather than one of at least 30 minutes in duration.

The stance adopted today will form the Parliament’s negotiating position in discussions with member states to finalise the law.

Raluca Marian, EU advocacy director with road transport industry group IRU, welcomed the Parliament’s position, stating that the updated text provides coach tourism drivers with rules fit for their industry, rather than lumping them in with truck drivers.

“The current rules are harming coach drivers’ wellbeing, holding back Europe’s tourism sector, and preventing the safest and most environmentally friendly form of collective passenger transport from prospering,” she said in a statement.

If adopted, the updated rules will “finally give coach tourism drivers the choice to organise their breaks based on the nature of their work and the needs of their passengers”, she added.

In contrast, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), a pan-European trade union organisation, slammed today’s vote, arguing that the new rules around rest and break periods will “endanger road safety, increase driver fatigue and deteriorate working conditions in a sector already impacted heavily by labor shortage”.

“The solution to the driver shortage is not flexibilisation, but improving working conditions and wages,” Livia Spera, ETF secretary general, told Euractiv.

Despite the criticism, ETF did welcome the Parliament’s move to digitise control documents, emphasising that enforcement will be increasingly important to tackle abusive practices in road transport.

Source:Ocnus.net 2023

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