ITF unions fight for better conditions for Ikea’s delivery drivers

For over two years, national unions affiliated to the global transport workers union, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), have been talking to the multinational Swedish retailer, Ikea, about their concerns over the company’s supply chain; specifically about the exploitation of workers in European transport companies subcontracted to deliver goods for retailer. Ikea has consistently refused union offers to work together to find a solution and has clearly refused to take responsibility for the gross exploitation of its delivery drivers.

Ikea’s European contractors employ drivers from across the continent — often operating out of Eastern Europe. They may work in the supply chain continuously for months at a time. They are paid lower wages even when they work in high waged countries. They are often forced to live, eat and sleep in their trucks. These practices  breach a central principle of the EU that workers should receive local conditions for local work. But the transport companies exploit loopholes in the law. For example, one driver is employed by a Slovakian subsidiary of Norwegian trucking company Bring, and is being paid as if his place of work is Slovakia — even though he never works there.

In the face of Ikea’s intransigence, the ITF’s member unions have been taking action since the end of last year, when talks with Ikea were suspended. Trade union activists in northern Europe, particularly from Sweden and Germany, are highlighting the plight of drivers ultimately working for Ikea whose working conditions subject them to the abuse of labour law and safety regulations. And they are talking to the media.

On 15 March, the story hit the headlines on BBC Radio’s flagship Today programme and its popular Victoria Derbyshire show — another example of how unions can leverage contact with the media, campaign groups, politicians and others to expose bad employers.

Earlier in 2017, demonstrations by ITF unions were sparked by a judgement from the District Court of the Northern Netherlands exposing the practices of one transport company used by Ikea.

The court found that this contractor used foreign truck drivers from affiliated companies to cut costs. The FNV, the ITF’s Dutch affiliate, had discovered that these drivers were being paid a basic wage around eight times lower than the basic wage under the Dutch Collective Labour Agreement (CLA). The court decided that this arrangement was “not consistent” with Dutch law and was contrary to EU law. It was, according to the court, intended to evade the CLA and it was outlawed with immediate effect. The court also ordered an end to the practice of drivers living in their trucks during weekly rest breaks, and it awarded back pay to three Dutch drivers.

“Lorry drivers moving goods in Western Europe for Ikea and other retailers are living out of their cabs for months at a time,” according to Today reporter Zoe Conway. “Some drivers — brought over from poorer countries by lorry firms based in Eastern Europe — say their salary is less than three pounds an hour.”

“They say they cannot afford to live in the countries where they work. One said he felt ‘like a prisoner’ in his cab.”

According to Conway’s report, Ikea said it was “saddened by the testimonies” of the drivers. Still the company refuses to take action.

Noel Coard, the new head of ITF’s inland transport division, said that Ikea must face up to its responsibilities: “This cannot go on. The top of the contracting chain needs to be held to account. European Commission President Juncker said that Europe is not the Wild West and we agree. Ikea can expect our trade unions to keep exposing the actions of their contractors and to continue to hold the company responsible for them.

“Economic employers like Ikea control the economy on our roads. Transport companies are under constant threat from the top of the supply chain: break the law or lose the contract. But Ikea has the power to end the misery that truck drivers are living. Our door remains open and we firmly believe that Ikea can be part of the solution rather than the problem.”

Conway’s report suggests that road haulage companies across the world, who comply with employment and health and safety regulations, are increasingly concerned that the practice of social dumping may threaten their competitiveness. And a recent study by two Australian academics condemned the power and influence of economic employers at the top of road transport contracting chains.

“Powerful clients at the top of the supply chain have significant influence over rates paid…” the study said. “In contrast, small freight transport providers at the bottom of the supply chain are left in an extremely weak position, with little or no power to negotiate rates paid or timelines for delivery, particularly after other supply chain parties have taken their portion of the profits.”

Now politicians are beginning to hear the message, and transport ministers from around Europe are taking a stand — alongside the unions. At the beginning of 2017, nine European transport ministers formed a ‘Road Alliance’ to fight social dumping and promote fair competition.

More information

Search for the hashtag #therealIKEA on Twitter.

Media release: ITF unions stand-up for truck drivers in IKEA supply chain‘, ITF, 19 December 2016.

Judgement of the District Court of the Northern Netherlands, Civil Law Division (Assen Office), Roll No.: 5591346 / VV EXPL 16/120.

Associate Professor Louise Thornthwaite and Dr Sharron O’Neill, ‘Evaluating Approaches to Regulating WHS in the Australian Road Freight Transport Industry’, November 2016.

Charles Pauka, ‘ Truck drivers fear raising safety concerns‘, Transport and Logistics News, 8 February 2017.

‘Road Alliance’ Memorandum, Meeting of European Ministers responsible for Transport, Paris, 31 January 2017.

Zoe Conway, ‘Ikea drivers living in trucks for months‘, BBC News, 15 March 2017.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Gary Herman

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