Lorry drivers across Europe and the UK have spoken out about exploitative working conditions and wage cutting in the industry, with some being forced to live in their cabs for months on end.
A BBC investigation found that Eastern European drivers are being used as cut-price labour by major retailers. The BBC also interviewed UK drivers making deliveries to discount supermarkets Aldi and Lidl, who are having to perform warehouse staff roles to keep costs down.
Romanian and Slovakian lorry drivers delivering goods for Ikea in Germany and Denmark said they eat, sleep and wash out of their cabs for months at a time. Similar testimonies were also heard in the UK.
Some of the drivers said their salary is less than £3 an hour.
One driver, Emilian from Romania, spoke to the BBC from Denmark, where he was delivering goods for Ikea.
Emilian said he spends up to four months living in his truck and takes home an average monthly salary of £420, compared to an average of £1,900 for Danish drivers.
This is despite an EU law that states drivers must spend at least 45 hours a week away from their cabs. EU rules also stipulate that drivers who temporarily live in another country to work should be “guaranteed” their host nation’s “minimum rates of pay”. However, many firms use legal loopholes to cut wages.
For example, because the company Emilian works for is registered in Slovakia, he is paid Slovakian rates – even though he never works there.
‘Like a bird in the cage’
He said, “(I feel) like a prisoner, like a bird in the cage. It’s not good for drivers, it’s not safe for other people on the road… it is possible to (cause an) accident.”
Many of the haulage firms contracted by Ikea pay Eastern European wages to drivers working in Western Europe. In a particularly shocking example, drivers from Moldova told the BBC they are paid just £130 a month.
Ikea, which also uses foreign haulage companies to deliver goods in Britain, said it was “saddened by the (drivers) testimonies” and takes what they said “very seriously”. But European trade unions accuse the firm of turning a blind eye in favour of profits.
Unite national officer from transport, Adrian Jones, said, “Now that the deplorable conditions that Ikea’s drivers are working under have been thrust into the public eye, the company should lead by example and put an end to these iniquitous practises.”
Although legal action is being taken against some of Ikea’s contractors, with one firm being found guilty of paying below the minimum wage and keeping workers in “inhumane” conditions by a Dutch judge last month, the practise is widespread across the industry – including in the UK.
A Polish driver in Immingham, Lincolnshire, told the BBC, “We spend a lot of time living in lay-bys where there are no toilets, no showers, no facilities.
“The work is paid a bit better than what I would get in Poland, but this life is not good. I do it for my family.”
Concerns have also been raised by the Road Haulage Association, who said that large UK retailers and other firms were taking advantage of cheap haulage companies that exploit migrant lorry drivers. The practise has resulted in undercut prices and a decrease in road safety, the association said.
Forced to unload
In a separate investigation the BBC also spoke to lorry drivers delivering goods to discount supermarkets Aldi and Lidl. The drivers said they are being forced to unload at the firms’ warehouses, despite other UK retailers outlawing the practise because of safety concerns.
One driver said, “I turned up and was told I had to tip myself. I said ‘no I ain’t’. I’ve just driven four and a half hours to get here. So they sent an agency driver instead with the load and he got paid more than me. Since then I’ve just had to do it.”
Aldi and Lidl said drivers are trained to unload their own cargo and that the practise saves them money, which is then passed onto consumers.
Unite’s Adrian Jones, said the firms needed to follow the lead of the larger supermarkets, who use warehouse staff to unload deliveries.
He said, “A couple of years ago a driver died while unloading a delivery, not Aldi and Lidl but it shows how dangerous this can be.”
Unite assistant general secretary, Diana Holland, said the large companies that set the terms and conditions for the haulage contractors they employ need to take action to stop drivers from being exploited.
“In Britain and across Europe truck drivers are being exploited as a direct result of the pressure coming from powerful clients like Ikea, Lidl and Aldi. Large companies dictate the economics of the industry and put unsustainable pressure on hauliers, leading to dangerous breaches of transport rules, driving and resting times and social rules,” Holland said.
“Unite is working with our sister unions across Europe and the International Transport Workers Federation to fight these blatant injustices and to prevent companies from ignoring the plight of drivers, who directly or indirectly, work for them.
“Drivers living in their cabins for months on end, exploitative wages, fraud, unreasonable workloads – all of this must stop.”