Carrier protest puts essential supplies at risk

First it was covid-19, then the lack of semiconductors and raw materials, then the shipping container crisis, and lastly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a period of just two years, global supply chains have been subjected to stress tests unlike anything seen in decades.

But it has been a local event, the indefinite stoppage of freight transport that began on March 14, 2022, which has caused the threat of significant shortages and manufacturing stoppages.

Its effect extends to different industries, such as the food industry, where, for example, producers have had to throw away milk not collected by carriers and Danone has announced the temporary suspension of its activity; that of the automobile, where Seat has approved an ERTE due to the lack of supplies, or that of construction, where some companies are already warning that they will be forced to stop their works if the necessary materials do not arrive.

Why the stoppage in transport?

The call for the strike was initially made by the Platform for the Defense of the Transport of Merchandise by Road, without the support of the official associations of the transport sector. This platform mainly represents self-employed carriers and small businessmen, who are the ones who suffer the most from the precarious conditions of a very fragmented sector, with very narrow margins and where the rise in fuel prices has been the trigger for a labor situation that is already yes it was difficult.

The conflict arose at the end of 2021, when, faced with the real possibility of a strike, an improvement agreement was reached between the Government and the transport sector associations.

This agreement was specified in 20 measures that tried to improve the conditions of the road transport sector. The point is that it did not meet the needs of many carriers, who have subsequently seen their problems increase with the armed conflict and the unprecedented escalation in fuel prices.

Why doesn’t the government negotiate with the platform?

According to the Minister of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, Raquel Sánchez, the Platform for the Defense of Goods Transport by Road is not a valid interlocutor for the sector.

For the Government, it is the National Road Transport Council (CNMT) that has the powers to consult, negotiate and collaborate with the Ministry of Transport. Various employers’ associations that have different weight in the sector participate in this council: the Spanish Confederation of Freight Transport (CETM, 54%), Fenadismer (26%) and, with a representation of less than 10%, Fetransa, Feintra and Astic.

The Platform for the Defense of the Transport of Goods by Road, without representation in the CNMT, has lit a fuse that has been adding followers day after day. The domino effect has reached Fenadismer, Fetransa and Feintra, employers who, without being blunt in their position, have already communicated that “the lack of specificity from the Government does not allow them to resume activity.” On the other hand, Astic maintains that the convening platform is not entitled to negotiate and that it does not feel represented by them.

A truck participating in the slow march of hundreds of freight vehicles, in protest against the increase in fuel prices, on March 23, 2022.
Shutterstock / Imax Press

What are your claims?

The main demand is to prohibit, by law, the contracting of freight transport services below operating costs. This request is feasible as the Ministry of Transport regularly publishes the reports of the Cost Observatory of freight transport by road. This would be mandatory for all transport companies, without the possibility of an agreement between companies.

In addition, they ask that a maximum term of 30 days be established for the payment of transport services and limit the intermediation in the transport contract to a single contractor. They also demand that the State reinforce the surveillance of rest areas and industrial estates to guarantee the safety of drivers and the correct custody of vehicles and merchandise.

One of the most controversial aspects of road freight transport is related to truck loading and unloading: the maximum time to do so is one hour from arrival or from the time agreed between the parties.

In this sense, on March 2, Royal Decree Law 3/2022 came into force which, in line with the provisions of the EU, prohibits the driver from participating in cargo loading and unloading operations, while reinforcing compliance with driving and rest times.

What solutions are there?

The Spanish government has proposed paying 500 million euros in direct aid to the transport sector in the hope of putting an end to strikes in freight transport. The point is that the organizations involved consider these aids to pay for diesel fuel insufficient and ask for specific measures to meet their demands.

If an agreement is not reached, it plans the shadow of the state of alarm as a last resort to ensure the supply of the population. The first time a state of alarm was declared in Spain after the Franco dictatorship was in December 2010 to deal with the strike of air traffic controllers, who were under military command to keep the Spanish skies operational.

This situation could occur again if the stoppages in transport continue and put at risk the supply of essential goods for the population. Everything will depend on the negotiations, where the parties involved have much to gain… and also to lose.

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