Truckers at the Limit: Exploitation on the Highway

Without truck drivers, the world would quickly come to a halt: supply chains would collapse, supermarket shelves would gradually empty, the economy would suffer significant losses, and jobs would be at risk. Nevertheless, the working conditions of many truck drivers are far from ideal: low wages, excessive working hours, and poor working conditions. 

Despite various EU-level regulations and the Supply Chain Act meant to prevent the exploitation of truck drivers, reality often looks quite different: Just last fall, a strike lasting more than two months by 120 truck drivers from Eastern Europe in Gräfenhausen, Hesse, attracted nationwide attention in Germany.

The drivers from Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan protested against their Polish freight forwarder, who had withheld their wages for months. Although the drivers were eventually paid, the fundamental problem in the industry remains unchanged. On the contrary, it has worsened. 

Drivers continue to suffer from insufficient pay, high time pressure, and a lack of proper regulation. The situation is so extreme that some drivers have to work continuously for months to make ends meet, even though they are supposed to return to their company’s location every eight weeks for a break. Instead, they practically live in their driver’s cabins and receive wages far below the legal minimum wage. A driver from Romania told ‘Bayerischer Rundfunk’ that he earns just 70 euros a day. However, he must cover all costs incurred during his trips with this money. To keep these costs as low as possible, he spends months in his driver’s cabin, where he sleeps, eats, and lives, despite the limited space of just a few square meters. The law clearly states that weekly rest periods should not be spent in the truck. Additionally, truck drivers working for German clients or driving on German highways are entitled to the German minimum wage and paid accommodation during rest periods. However, the lack of control and regulation means that such abuses are widespread and exploited by some unscrupulous companies. This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that – especially foreign drivers – often lack the information or resources to assert their rights. 

Moreover, they are usually in a dependent relationship with their employers, as their work permits and residency rights in the EU depend on them. This situation puts the drivers, who already face language barriers and other challenges, under immense pressure not to disclose their situation. On top of this, constant time pressure can compromise road safety, as breaks are skipped, leading to fatigue, overcrowded parking lots, and continuous monitoring by employers via GPS. 

To counter this exploitation – at least in Austria – the Chamber of Labor is demanding the following: 

  • Every 60 km on all highways, there should be a rest area with sufficient parking spaces for trucks. 
  • Clean, free sanitary facilities and warm showers with 24-hour service should be available. 
  • Restaurants in rest areas should offer a special menu at affordable prices. 
  • Professional drivers should receive one warm meal per day, free Wi-Fi throughout the rest area, access to cooking facilities and washing machines. 
  • Adequate lighting and video surveillance should be provided to improve safety at rest areas. 
  • A “DOC-Stop” should provide contact information in case of illness. 
  • For temperature-controlled transport, power connections for trucks should be available. 
  • Each rest area should have a list of easily accessible guesthouses and accommodations to ensure proper and legal weekly rest. 
  • Regular inspections should be enforced to prevent illegal parking in rest areas.