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Sustainable inland waterway transport and working conditions: it's time to make a move

22 September 2021

Environmental sustainability in inland waterways must be linked to good quality jobs and conditions, Estelle Brentnall of the European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) says

Following the communication from the European Commission NAIADES III: Boosting future-proof European inland waterway transport, the European Parliament adopted last 14 September a resolution towards future-proof inland waterway transport in Europe (2021/2015(INI)).

This is another noteworthy initiative that advocates sustainable inland waterway transport, particularly since the interests of the inland navigation sector are not always well represented in the political agenda. Yet, inland navigation is deeply affected by climate change, with widespread changes in weather patterns leading to extreme events in the rivers as we have unfortunately seen in some parts of Europe this summer.

Inland navigation therefore merits particular attention and is among others regulated by the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) as well as at European level. In the declaration signed in Mannheim on 17 October 2018, the transport ministers of the Member States of the CCNR (Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Switzerland) reasserted the objective of largely eliminating greenhouse gases and other pollutants by 2050.

The European Parliament resolution, however, is not only about environment and economic sustainability, but also, and of utmost importance for our members, about working conditions. The report notably underlines the importance of guaranteeing good working conditions and decent salaries in inland waterway transport, and calls on the Member States to ensure adequate social security coverage for all workers on board in line with EU social legislation.

The resolution further highlights the need for unambiguous labour and social security law in the inland waterway transport sector and stresses the need to safeguard social protection and rights for European and third-country crew members.

We already explained in a previous article that some segments of the river industry (cruise mainly) is characterised by international and rather complex company structures.

Our affiliates have recently reported a growing number of Dutch companies using a Swiss Letterbox company and providing Swiss labour contracts. We understand there is no real link to Switzerland and that those constructs lead to problems, as it transpires that the Dutch management has absolutely no knowledge of the functioning of Swiss social security.

Switzerland has the largest average number of persons employed per company in inland waterway transport. Both Switzerland and the Netherlands have a high share of foreign inland waterway transport workers (The European inland navigation sector labour market, February 2021).

One of the main principles of EU policies is social cohesion, which also means guaranteed social security protection for all workers. We support our affiliates that in such cases as described above the employer should be the Dutch company and not the Swiss construct. The employees should receive Dutch employment contracts and be covered by social security in the Netherlands.

It's soon make or break time for EU inland waterways. Fair working conditions and a level playing field are critical pillars for a sustainable and resilient inland waterway transport in Europe.


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