(CN) — Long-distance truck drivers who cross borders for work are covered by European Union rules that ensure employees are treated fairly when they work outside their home country, Europe's highest court held on Tuesday.
The case before the European Court of Justice involved German and Hungarian truck drivers employed by a major Dutch international bulk transportation company, Van den Bosch Transporten.
Previously, it was not clear if truck drivers can be classified as so-called posted workers — employees sent by an employer to work temporarily in another country. With its open borders and single economic market, the EU is increasingly interconnected, and it is common for people to work across borders. But European law covering such workers in the transportation sector was open to different interpretations.
In 1996, the EU adopted regulations to prevent foreign workers from undercutting local workers, a phenomenon the EU calls “social dumping,” and to ensure that European companies and countries compete on a level playing field.
Under those regulations, known as the Posting of Workers Directive, companies that send workers to another EU country are required to follow that country's rules on such matters as minimum wages, maximum working hours, the equal treatment of men and women, and health standards. As an example, this would prevent a Polish company from sending its workers to Denmark, a country with some of Europe's highest wages, while continuing to pay them the same wages they would get in Poland.
Conversely, the rules do not apply when workers are sent to countries where the minimum wage, for example, is lower. For example, a German company that sends its engineers to Romania, one of Europe's poorest nations, must still pay its workers what they make in Germany.
But the 1996 directive did not specify whether those rules applied to workers in the transportation sector, and that's what Tuesday's ruling helped clarify.
The court's Grand Chamber said the directive does apply to the transnational transportation sector. But it also said there are limits to that interpretation. For instance, it said a truck driver who only passes through a country should not be considered a posted worker. It said truck drivers should be protected by rules for posted workers when drivers spend a lot of time in another country.
The ruling came in a case where Van den Bosch Transporten and two sister companies in Germany and Hungary hired local workers who started and ended their journeys in Erp, the company's headquarters in the Netherlands. But most of the time those drivers worked outside the Netherlands.
The German and Hungarian drivers were hired under charter contracts and they were not covered by a Dutch collective labor agreement. As Van den Bosch Transporten is a member of the Netherlands Association for Goods Transport, the company’s Dutch drivers are covered by the collective labor agreement but its non-Dutch drivers weren't.
The Netherlands Federation of Trade Unions sued Van den Bosch Transporten, arguing that the German and Hungarian drivers should be covered by the collective labor agreement and also be considered posted workers, as stipulated by the 1996 EU directive.
When the case reached the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden, the Dutch high court, asked the EU court to determine whether Van den Bosch Transporten's German and Hungarian truck drivers should be regarded as posted workers and be covered by the collective labor agreement. The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice is the final arbiter on disputes over EU laws. Its rulings are applied by national courts, which render verdicts.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.