Truckers on strike tell woes
Transport workers tell their side of the story and justify the nationwide strike that has caused chaos in Spain.MADRID - They may be sitting idle on Spain's roads, but truck drivers who began a nationwide strike on Monday insist they would not be earning much more if they were working.
With fuel prices through the roof, truckers - many of them independent freelancers and small-business owners - complain that their profit margins have shrunk to next to nothing, leaving many with barely enough income to put food on the table.
The strike, they claim, is the only way to pressure the government into giving in on their principal demands: establishing minimum haulage tariffs to keep truckers from working below cost, making it a legal obligation for distributors to revise haulage contracts in line with fuel price increases, and, most importantly, creating a cut-price diesel fuel supply for the sector.
The government has offered 51 alternative measures including VAT, income tax and social security breaks, but says minimum tariffs would be a violation of EU-rules.
The proposal has been accepted by associations representing 80 percent of the sector, but the 20 percent who began the strike are pressing for more. In doing so, they are keeping food from getting to markets, leaving gas stations empty and disrupting the lives of anyone else using Spain's roads.
"You want me to tell you how the price of diesel affects me? I went to pay for breakfast this morning but my bank account was empty. That's how it affects me," says Alberto, a trucker who stopped Tuesday on the A-1 highway outside Madrid.
"It makes no difference to me to be stuck here, because I wouldn't be earning much more if I was working."
The truckers' biggest problem is that they tend to work on one-year contracts with distributors, but the price of diesel has shot up 30 percent in just three months as crude oil prices have surged.
"I get 85 cents per kilometre. Of that, around 50 cents goes on diesel. On top of that we have to pay social security, the driver, and maintenance - just changing all the tires, something that has to be done once a year, costs EUR 6,000," explains Juan Antonio, a freelance hauler with two trucks.
Juan Antonio drives one of them, earning what he says is a "subsistence salary" for himself. He employs a driver for the other one. "It loses money if something unexpected happens, like a breakdown or a fine," he says.
For that reason, many independent haulers and transport companies are shedding drivers and trucks.
José Ángel, a businessman, says he sold two of his nine trucks in March for EUR 72,000 to cover debts.
"That money has vanished in three months," he complains. His trucks each used to bring in EUR 1,000 in net income every month, but now he says he is struggling to keep them from losing money.
Meanwhile, José, who works for his brother in a family business hauling soil and rubble from building sites, says the number of staff at the company dropped from 24 to eight in just 18 months.
"We've had to let drivers go and get behind the wheel ourselves," he says, sitting in the cab of one of the company's trucks on the A-6 highway outside Madrid. "We're not here because we want to be," he adds.
José also notes that truckers are skimping on maintenance to cut costs - putting their lives and those of other road users at risk.
"If you're losing money you're not going to spend on maintenance," he says.
text by dpa / Pablo Linde / Elsa Granda / Expatica
photo by Flickr contributor veganstraightedge
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