László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion welcomed the signing of the new social partner agreement to lay down specific rules for working time on passenger or cargo transport ships in inland waterways across the EU.
Mr Andor stressed the importance of the Inland waterway transport sector which plays an essential role in the transport of goods in Europe saying: "The inland waterway transport is one of the key modes of transport in the EU in economic terms. Good working conditions and adequate rest periods are essential for the safety of traffic, the crews and passengers on all such vessels".
Inland waterways cover more than 37,000 kilometres in the EU and connect hundreds of cities and industrial regions. 20 out of 27 Member States have inland waterways and 12 are interconnected by inland waterways. Around 500 million tons of freight are transported on inland waterways annually.
The Commissioner praised the efforts of the social partners stressing: "The sectoral social partners are best placed to know the special characteristics and demands of work in inland waterways transport. They have demonstrated again today that they can find concrete solutions for specific problems and that they contribute to setting high level European standards".
The new agreement will take account of the distinctive working conditions in this sector, while ensuring a high level of protection for these workers' health and safety. It covers both crew members and shipboard personnel (for example, cooks, cleaners or musicians on a passenger transport ship).
It lays down important minimum rules:
This new agreement also means that the Working Time Directive will no longer apply to this sector. It will allow for more specific rules suited to this particular sector of activities. Similar specific EU working time rules have already been agreed by European social partners for mobile workers in civil aviation and in cross-border rail transport, and for seafarers.
The agreement will also provide some flexibility to suit the specificity of the sector. For example, in an emergency, the captain or his representative can require the crew or the personnel to do any necessary work to ensure the safety of the vessel, passengers or cargo, until the normal situation is restored. The normal working day is 8 hours, but daily working time may be longer, and some weekly rest days may be temporarily postponed, provided that the minimum standards set out above are always respected.
The agreement reached was an initiative by the social partners. The signatory parties - European Barge Union (EBU), European Skippers' Organisation (ESO), representing the employers' side, and European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF), representing the workers' side, – will now ask the Commission for their agreement to be made legally binding in the EU. Before presenting a legislative proposal to the Council, the Commission will carry out an assessment of the representative status of the signatory parties, their mandate and the legality of each clause of the agreement in relation to existing Union law, in accordance with normal practice.