Romanian MEP Cristian Terheș expressed outrage at the Belgian Government’s failure to compensate what he called exploited Romanian lorry drivers.
His comments followed the conviction of Belgian transport mogul Roland Jost for the large-scale hiring of Eastern European workers, a practice referred to in Belgium as “social dumping”.
Jost received an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a €4.8 million fine that he will only need to pay if he re-offends.
Still, according Terheș, the Belgian Government has not gone far enough and has made virtually no effort to secure justice for the drivers who were allegedly exploited.
“If the Belgian authorities are not corrupt and are not in the pocket of Roland Jost, these human rights violations and severe crimes must be seriously investigated,” he told Brussels Signal.
Terheș was visited in the European Parliament by a delegation of Romanian drivers who had been affected by what they allege were the Jost Group’s exploitative practices.
Among claimed abuses was the falsification of the drivers’ paycheques by the company. The drivers allege that the company labelled those extra hours as “recuperation” time, as if they had taken days off the previous month, which was never the case, they argued.
The drivers also claimed that if they refused to sign the cheques they were threatened with being fired.
“Considering just these 15 Romanian drivers alone”, Terheș said, referring to the 15 drivers involved in class-action lawsuit against the Jost Group, “by robbing them of their fair and just salaries, Jost Group was able to ‘save’ at least €250,000 a year.”
“This is simply outrageous and unacceptable.”
At the start of 2022, the Jost Group was itself taken to court. The case against the company included charges of being a criminal organisation, human trafficking and money laundering, according to online outlet Trans.info. Many workers apparently operated in poor conditions with a lack of sanitary facilities.
The company reached a deal with the Belgian state where it would pay Belgium a “settlement without admission of guilt”. This amounted to €30 million, which was meant to compensate for the social insurance payments not made by the company on behalf of its workers.
The Jost Group’s annual turnover amounts to around €350 million.
Despite the Jost Group case, the drivers claim they have yet to be compensated for the wages they allege they were not paid.
They said that even though they complained to the responsible organisations, the Belgian authorities seemed to be wanting to stall the case. They added that it has apparently taken more than two years to produce a report and that only after officials received several subsequent complaints from the drivers over claimed inaction.
The Romanian lorry drivers’ case is now set for its final hearing at the Liege Court of Appeal on October 25.
“All these workers have the same rights as any other driver in Belgium, which is why such abusive behaviour cannot and must not be protected by the Belgium authorities,” Terhes said.