There are all key grievances of modern labour world in this cross-border labour story: exploitation of foreign workers, hard work far away from homeland, earnings not paid on time, employers’ violent answer to the protest. But there is also a message of hope, well-known to generations of labour activists: courage and solidarity bear fruit.
What can drivers do, if the employer does not pay their salaries on time, and they wait for their earnings for two months? They stop the cars and stage a strike. And precisely this has been done by more than 60 drivers employed by a Polish shipping company AGMAZ & LUK MAZ (also named Mazur by some media, after the owner’s name). Since the end of March, they have come to a parking lot in Gräfenhausen in southern Hesse and refused to work any more until the delayed payment comes.
The protesting drivers have been waiting for weeks, then months for their salaries. They are mostly citizens of Georgia and Uzbekistan, but not only. They are among hundreds of drivers, born in post-Soviet states, but seeing a chance for decent salaries only far away from their homelands, in European transport and shipping industry. In Poland, it could be hard to point a company active in this field which does not employ ‘Eastern’ drivers.
As they calculated, AGMAZ & LUK MAZ has not paid them their due salaries for more than two months. Overall, this makes for more than 250 thousand euros.
With their spontaneous strike action, the drivers want to enforce decent wages, but also better conditions for further work.
The protesters claim that their problems started at the very moment when they started working for this company. hey point out that, given the nature of the work and the scope of their duties, they should obviously have signed employment contracts, meanwhile they were offered assignments or cooperation on the basis of self-employment (a contract between two companies). The amounts they earn are also much lower than the minimum rates in Germany. The company promised them 80 euros for each day of work.
In addition, the drivers allege that some of them have been living in their trucks for several months and, despite clear EU directives found in the Mobility Package, have never returned to base, not to mention their families. In addition, they are forced to work 13-15 hours a day, despite the fact that EU regulations explicitly forbid it.
The workers were fed up with the fact that the earnings were not paid. They parked their vehicles in a parking lot in southern Hesse and have not moved since then.
This is not the first protest by these drivers; they have previously protested in smaller groups in Switzerland and Italy. The protesters are supported by trade unionists from Germany and the Netherlands. They received solidarity and support from the local structures and Hesse politicians of Die Linke party.
On Friday, April 8, the owner of the shipping company came to the protesters, but not to apologize for the delays or to negotiate.
Lukasz Mazur, the company’s owner, arrived in Germany to forcibly seize the vehicles on which the strikers work every day. He showed up at the parking lot in Gräfenhausen surrounded by armed men from Rutkowski Patrol, a private detective and ‘order enforcement’ company.
The men tried to get into the trucks, but an intervention of the German police prevented the situation from escalating dangerously. The owner of the shipping company and the security guards were detained. The police charged them with, among other things, serious public order offenses, coercion, threats, attempted dangerous bodily harm and disrupting a gathering – that is, the drivers’ protests.
One of the drivers was lightly injured in the head when the company owner and Rutkowski’s “bodyguards” tried to get into one of the parked trucks.
Stefan Körzell of the German Federation of Trade Unions commented in strong terms on the course of events. As he said, “the employer sent paramilitary thugs” to end the protest, which is unacceptable in Germany. For Rutkowski, it was the police intervention that was ‘unacceptable’. On 14 April, the non-licensed detective and the representatives of the company intend to appear in front of the German embassy in Warsaw to lament over supposed disruption of the business activity.
Replacement drivers, who were brought to the parking lot too, most probably didn’t know for what purpose they had been hired. – They did not want to play the role of breakers – says Anna Weirich of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), who was an eyewitness to the events. As she stressed, she and her colleagues from the Dutch trade union FNV keep supporting the striking drivers.
The Polish company declined to comment on the events to the media. However, on 14 April, it reacted in a more desirable way: it has apparently started to pay what had to be paid two months ago. One of the drivers received his salary. His workmates are still waiting, and they promise to finish the protest only when all the payments come to their bank accounts.
Unfortunately, what we are experiencing here is a rather sad reality of freight transport in Europe,” commented DGB’s Hesse chairman, Michael Rudolph.
The trade unionist noted that the legal situation of foreign drivers is actually clear. There are rules on how they should be employed and paid. However, the gap between regulations and practice, to the disadvantage of workers, is glaring.
The wages of the country in which the vehicle is driven apply. Unfortunately, the reality is different. There are many employers who send drivers ’round Europe for much less money, and people not only work in the most precarious conditions, but are also forced to live in their trucks
– Rudolph sums up.
As labornet.de reported, some companies so far using the services of AGMAZ & LUK MAZ are breaking off cooperation with the Polish shipping company or considering the move. Still, there is a long way until we see civilized standards in this economy branch, where huge profits for shipping companies remain in stark contrast to the drivers’ pay.
For quite sure, this way will be marked by further workers’ protests. Those protesting in Grafenhausen are aware of that. – We are not standing here just for ourselves and our families – a driver named Bagrat, from Georgia, told the reporter from German Jacobin magazine. – We are doing this for all the drivers, who are in the same situation.