November 28, 2022

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Tough Roads: The Exploitation of Filipino Truck Drivers in Europe

Tough Roads: The Exploitation of Filipino Truck Drivers in Europe

Illustration by Rappler.

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands—Randy remembers feeling paralyzed by dread. He couldn’t shake off the thought: “That might have been me.”

Certainly one of Randy’s colleagues had a highway accident whereas driving alongside the snowy streets of Belgium. Their employer checked his colleague out of the hospital the very subsequent day and compelled him to drive once more. 

“Alam kong sobrang careworn ’yung kasamahan ko: kulang sa tulog, madaming utos na i-deliver. Palagi pang galet [ang amo namin]. Switzerland, France, Germany – kailangan magazine unload. Hataw talaga. Wala kang magagawa,” stated Randy, who requested that solely his first identify be used. 

(I knew my colleague was very careworn. He lacked sleep as a result of there have been so many deliveries. Our boss was all the time offended. We’d unload [our cargo] in Switzerland, France, and Germany. All the pieces was rushed. We couldn’t do something about it.)

Randy, 51, had been driving below those self same working situations. 

Migrant truck drivers like Randy are cornered in Europe’s transport business. Unscrupulous employers revenue from a sector bleeding from a scarcity of truck drivers and affected by the uneven implementation of laws throughout the borders of the European Union. 


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These employers maximize income by undercutting wages and subjecting drivers to exploitative working situations. Inflexible human trafficking legal guidelines that don’t acknowledge different types of labor exploitation, such because the case of those migrant truck drivers, go away them unprotected and weak.

Randy’s employer, Mustapha To’ma, rigged his monitoring gadget referred to as a tachograph so he may bypass obligatory relaxation occasions and preserve driving. Nation landscapes blurred into one another as Randy crossed the borders to make yet one more supply. He fought off fatigue and the loneliness of being remoted in his truck. 

The highway accident met by his colleague was a turning level for Randy. One thing needed to be carried out.

Randy and eight different Filipino truck drivers determined to file a case of human trafficking in opposition to their employer, Mustapha To’ma, proprietor of King’s Transport. They alleged unfair wages, extreme driving hours, deplorable working situations, and verbal abuse.

In September 2021, the workplace of the general public prosecutor within the Netherlands ended a virtually three-year investigation into their case and dismissed their grievance. 

“I really feel like we have been thrown away, that we weren’t listened to. Like what we went by way of didn’t imply something,” stated Randy concerning the choice.  


Migrant truck driver Randy, at his residence in The Netherlands, reveals the choice launched by the Dutch Public Prosecutors Workplace dismissing their case of human trafficking. Picture by Jofelle Tesorio/Rappler. Netherlands, 2022.

Unlucky and unfavorable, however not slavery

Rappler reviewed the person case paperwork the place Randy and eight different Filipino drivers recounted the situations below which they have been made to work from 2017 to 2018.

Whereas particulars diversified, the lads had frequent complaints of being made to make use of defective or disabled trackers to bypass mandated relaxation occasions, and thus drive lengthy hours. They weren’t given lodging allowance and have been pressured to stay of their vans. They have been paid lower than what they have been promised. One complained of verbal abuse. One other complained of being threatened to go to work even after he had figured in a highway accident.

Rappler additionally reviewed the choice of the Dutch public prosecutor. The choice described the drivers’s working situations as “unlucky and unfavourable,” however that there was inadequate proof to show human trafficking for the aim of labor exploitation.

“Not all the pieces unhealthy that the employer does in opposition to their workers is human trafficking. Human trafficking could be very extreme and is like slavery. The situations that the drivers have been working below usually are not slavery situations,” stated Els Martens, the general public prosecutor who penned the choice.

King’s Transport and its proprietor, Mustapha, confronted no penalties or penalties. The Dutch authorities has no jurisdiction or authority to sanction an organization established in Poland. 

It’s this seemingly small element that enables hauling corporations throughout the European Union to use the vulnerability of migrant truck drivers with impunity.

King’s Transport was arrange as a “letter field” firm in Poland. The “letter field” enterprise apply permits transport corporations to cut back prices and circumvent labor legal guidelines by establishing corporations in a European Union member state with low wages whereas working solely in international locations the place wages are increased.

King’s Transport was established as a “letter field” firm in Poland, however operated completely within the Netherlands, Germany, France – among the many wealthiest international locations in Europe. 

In 2020, Rappler reported on the case of alleged human trafficking of Filipino and Sri Lankan truck drivers employed by Danish transport large, Kurt Beier. Like King’s Transport, Kurt Beier used varied means to bypass a fundamental rule of employment: a employee should be paid a wage equivalent to the wage legal guidelines within the nation they work in.

Kurt Beier had employed the Filipino drivers in Manila by way of a recruitment company. The employees first traveled to Malaysia and utilized for a piece allow from Poland, the place Kurt Beier had established a shell workplace as a subsidiary. 

The drivers entered Europe by way of Poland, however by no means labored in Poland. They drove largely in Denmark and have been paid solely a fraction of the €1,500 to €2,500 (P84,000 to P140,000) wage a Danish driver can be paid for a similar job. One driver reported that he was solely given a €50 (P2,800) meals allowance.

The drivers weren’t given lodging and compelled to stay of their vans. A tip to the Danish police led to their rescue on the border of Germany and Denmark, the place they reported to have been dwelling in “slum-like” situations with no correct bogs or heating. 

In August 2021, the Danish authorities cleared Kurt Beier officers of all costs of labor exploitation. The corporate was fined 100,000 Danish kroner ($14,400 or P753,600) and its CEO, Karsten Beier, 25,000 Danish kroner ($3,600 or P188,400) for violating Denmark’s constructing code.

Just like the Netherlands, Denmark doesn’t have particular legal guidelines that criminalize labor exploitation. 

In accordance with labor rights teams, what constitutes modern-day slavery turns into hazy and imprecise when worldwide legal guidelines that outline the cross-border nature of human trafficking haven’t any corresponding prison code for prosecution in nationwide legal guidelines.

“Once we consider ‘slavery,’ now we have pictures of individuals being locked up. However you don’t must be locked as much as be trapped into working below exploitative labor situations,” stated Eefje de Volder, adviser on labor exploitation for the NGO Coordination Centre for Human Trafficking (CoMensha).


Migrant truck drivers like Randy haul cargo throughout the European Union. Land transport is essential to the provision chain. Picture by Jofelle Tesorio/Rappler. Netherlands, 2022.

Spine of the provision chain

​​An estimated 3 million truck drivers type the spine of the European financial system, transporting items from transport ports and delivering them throughout borders. Truck drivers transfer about 75% of inland freight by way of the 27 international locations that comprise the European Union. 

They drive alongside the identical countless roads, however disparities in salaries separate them.

A driver employed from low-wage international locations in Jap Europe and the Philippines might be paid as little as €500 ($560) doing the identical job a Western European driver can be paid an estimated €3,000 ($3,380) for.

“Exploiting drivers makes for a worthwhile enterprise case for unhealthy employers,” stated Edwin Atema from the Federation of Dutch Commerce Unions (FNV), which represents truck drivers within the Netherlands.

Atema took Rappler to one of many many parking heaps that line the highways that stretch from the port of Rotterdam, the most important seaport in Europe. About 40 to 50 vans have been parked as drivers took a relaxation from hauling something from greens and Dutch tulips to aviation components.

“Not a single trucking firm right here is following guidelines,” stated Atema. 

Pointing to a truck licensed within the jap European Baltic state of Lithuania, Atema stated, “You’ll by no means see this truck driving in Lithuania.”

On weekends, when drivers are mandated by regulation to take relaxation days, these parking heaps turn out to be tenting websites. Truck drivers clear themselves up in petrol station bogs or portalets. Throughout chilly European winters, they cook dinner inside their vans. At night time, they curl into the cabins of their vans to sleep. When the weekend is over, they choose up and ship a brand new load.

Dashed hopes, shattered desires

Figuring out how one can work a steering wheel and maneuver his means across the tight gridlocked streets of Manila was Randy’s ticket to carving out a dwelling. 

Randy had been dreaming of driving large vans ever since he taught himself to drive his father’s jeepney as a 10-year-old boy rising up in Leyte, central Philippines. From Leyte, Randy chased higher-paying trucker jobs in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In 2015, after 5 months of working in Qatar, Randy noticed a Fb submit about an pressing want for drivers in Europe, providing €1,200 ($1,350) per thirty days – thrice what he was making.

Nearly a 12 months earlier, a monstrous hurricane had battered the Philippines, flattening Randy’s residence, leaving him with “no job, no home, no life.”

Randy considered what the pay bump may do for him and his household. He despatched a message with little expectation however a lot hope that working situations and salaries in Europe have been higher.

“Hindi ko akalain magkakaganito,” he stated. (I had no concept issues would prove this fashion.)

With their human trafficking case dismissed, Randy now faces having to return to the Philippines and the financial hardship that he had tried to flee.

Their case prompted Dutch parliamentarians to file a movement to broaden the definition of labor exploitation within the Netherlands and make it simpler to prosecute employee abuse.

These legislative adjustments instigate the much-needed reforms within the transport business however would possibly come too late for Randy. 

Presently, their case is below enchantment, however Jeroen Maas, lawyer for the drivers, stays apprehensive. “The prospect of a positive consequence could be very slim, though the case has attracted the eye of Dutch Members of Parliament,” stated Maas. 

“The federal government doesn’t appear to be delicate towards their scenario, solely as a result of they don’t qualify as ‘trafficking victims’ as a result of definition of the particular crime within the Dutch Legal Code,” he added.

“Napaka-unfair. Napaka-unfair talaga,” stated Randy. (It’s unfair. It’s simply so unfair.) 

With reviews from Jofelle Tesorio/Rappler.