Truckers to gain 48-hour week as blockades bite

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The Independent Online
LORRY AND coach drivers are to win an average 48-hour working week as part of a package of Europe-wide measures that emerged as a protest by truckers disrupted continental ports and borders yesterday.

Drafts of a deal to extend the controversial Working Time Directive to 3.5 million drivers also meets key trade-union demands by including tasks such as loading, cleaning and maintaining vehicles, and conducting safety checks, within the 48-hour limit. The drivers will gain a guaranteed minimum of four weeks' annual holiday.

News of the impending agreement angered the Road Haulage Association, which called on the European Commission not to "cave in to the industrial action".

The biggest demonstrations were in France and, while they did not match the blockages of the past two winters, there were big tail-backs of lorries on the Spanish, Italian, Belgian and Luxembourg borders. Cross-Channel traffic was relatively unscathed. French lorry drivers handed out leaflets in Calais but made no attempt to block the Channel Tunnel terminal or ports.

There were "filter barriers", to stop truck traffic and slow cars, at exits from the ports of Dieppe and Ouistreham, in Normandy; 400 trucks were reported to be queuing, or parked in support of the day of action, on the French side of the Mont Blanc tunnel. At Biriatou, on the Franco- Spanish border, a French driver, prevented from driving into Spain, swung his truck across the road and a six-mile jam built before the road was cleared. Traffic on roads within France was normal.

Transport workers and junior hospital doctors have been exempt from the 48-hour week affecting most other workers. But on 18 September employers and unions hope to agree a deal, which will be the basis of a European directive laying down conditions in EU countries. Yesterday the European Commission said that if the two sides fail to agree, it will bring forward its own proposals, along similar lines, by 30 September. That alarmed some British employers who claim they already face high fuel and excise costs and want new measures to stop continental truck drivers from blockading ports.

Last night the Road Haulage Association said it would "be concerned at measures which reduce further the flexibility of the industry".