A television documentary distributed online by a team of investigative journalists into appalling working practices in the largest Lithuanian international haulage companies has provoked widespread news coverage and urgent discussions in the Lithuanian parliament and government.
Poor working conditions for lorry drivers have come under the spotlight repeatedly in recent years, with organisations including the European Transport Workers Federation calling for urgent action, legal reform and better enforcement of existing rules.
The journalists investigated the main Lithuanian haulage companies, that are also among the biggest in the EU. Around 77 000 drivers are employed in the Lithuanian haulage industry, but around 90% come from third countries outside the EU including Ukraine and Belarus and some from as far away as India. Girteka, the largest company in the sector, employs around 15,000 drivers. According to the reporters, the drivers are attracted by promises of good salaries and working conditions in the EU – but the reality is low pay, unexplained salary deductions, few rights and being forced to break key road safety laws such us on driving and resting hours.
The programme has been watched more than 400,000 times (Lithuania has a population of just 2.8 million).
The film includes interviews with drivers explaining how they are often forced to break rules on rest times, by switching the tachograph to a rest time when they are doing other work such as making a delivery or filling up their vehicle.
A representative of the Lithuanian Freight Transport Association interviewed by the programme denied wrongdoing.
However the chairs of two parliamentary committees, as well as the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Social Security and Employment have since given interviews to the filmmakers admitting that there are problems and promising to investigate the claims.
Among the points of concern raised by the documentary makers, drivers are regularly forced to:
- break traffic laws or face internal financial penalties imposed by their employers;
- take diversions on higher risk rural roads to avoid paid toll motorways, and even on roads where HGVs are explicitly prohibited;
- work on their longer rest weekend, with refusal to do so resulting in salary deductions;
- always sleep in the cab, with fake hotel invoices provided to show that a long rest period has been spent outside the vehicle;
- spend many months on the roads in some cases.