Norway’s postal service Posten has been the target of lots of criticism lately, as it continues to cut back on mail delivery and close post offices in a bid to cut costs. Now it’s been accused of treating drivers for the Slovakian subsidiary of its trucking company Bring like slaves, but Posten claims that’s not true.
A Romanian driver showed the BBC (external link to BBC’s report) this week how he has to prepare his meals, wash and sleep in his Bring truck, sometimes for four months at a time. His told the BBC that his monthly salary of around EUR 477 (less than NOK 5,000 a month) means he can’t afford to sleep anywhere else. He described his working conditions as being “like modern slavery.’
As an employee of Bring’s Slovakian subsidiary Bring Trucking, he’s paid in accordance with Slovakian pay scales, even though he never works in the low-cost country. He most recently has been delivering furniture for IKEA around Western Europe, and told the BBC that the EUR 40 he receives to cover lodging and expenses doesn’t go far in countries like Denmark. A Danish driver for Bring, meanwhile, can be paid more than four times his Romanian colleague working for the Slovakian unit.
‘Normal’ to live in their trucks
IKEA, which pays Bring for its delivery services, claimed it was “saddened” to hear the testimonials of the low-paid drivers, who work in Western Europe but are paid low Eastern European wages through an apparent loophole in the law. John Eckhoff, spokesman for Bring’s Norwegian state-controlled owner Posten, claimed Bring was operating legally and that it’s “normal” for drivers in long-haul international transport to live in their trucks.
“But we organize and pay for their transport when they want to return home,” Eckhoff told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Thursday. He said it was incorrect that the drivers are forced to live in their trucks for months. He said they have access to facilities all over Europe that offer kitchens, exercise facilities, toilets and beds.
Eckhoff said Posten was taking the accusations seriously, but claimed its Bring unit paid higher wages on average than other trucking companies. He told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that Bring had given its drivers 15 percent pay raises last year. Bring’s Slovakian operation, established in 2006, has around 500 drivers and 330 trucks driving all over Europe. Eckhoff confirmed that most of the drivers live in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia and are paid in accordance with pay levels in Slovakia.
Asked why Posten opted to base its operations in Slovakia, Eckhoff told DN the company “had contacts in the country who gave us good terms for establishing there. At the same time, it has to do with overall cost levels and operating from a location in central Europe.” He claimed Bring’s operation was “normal for companies operating within international transport.”
EU expansion worsened working conditions
Labour union officials contend truckers’ pay and working conditions have worsened since the EU expanded into Eastern Europe. Lars Johnsen of the Norwegian transport workers federation (Norsk Transportarbeiderforbund) said he wasn’t surprised by the BBC report but expected Bring Trucking to be in compliance with the law.
Eckhoff insists it is. “As a state-owned company it’s natural that the media and the authorities follow what we do,” Eckhoff told NRK. “As of now we have no reason to believe that we’re violating any of our high standards, but we’ll examine this situation more closely.” Two Members of Parliament for the Labour and Center parties were already demanding that on Thursday, and that Posten/Bring clarifies working conditions for its drivers in Europe.
“If it’s correct that their working conditions are such (as described in the BBC report), that’s completely unacceptable for a wholly owned state company,” Eirik Sivertsen, Labour’s spokesman on transport issues, told DN.