Next week in Strasbourg, MEPs will vote on a controversial Commission proposal, the Bauer Report, to exclude self-employed lorry and coach drivers from EU working time rules. In the interests of road safety, fair competition, and health and safety for drivers, Labour MEPs will vote against it.

It is widely accepted that driver fatigue is a factor in 20% of all accidents. According to a US study, driver fatigue was a factor in 52% of accidents involving Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs). In other studies, 50% of professional drivers have admitted falling asleep at the wheel.

In addition to driving, lorry and coach drivers must also carry out tasks such as loading and unloading, assisting passengers, and vehicle maintenance. These are labour-intensive and contribute as much to fatigue as driving.

For these reasons Europe has legislation limiting not only driving time but total working time for professional drivers. The driving time rules cover employed and self-employed drivers but self-employed drivers were given a temporary exemption until 2009 from the restrictions on additional work, which leaves them free to work up to a horrendous 86 hours per week.

Now, a major effort is underway to make this exclusion permanent. This move is being supported by the Irish government and some Irish MEPs. If self-employed drivers are permanently excluded from the working time rules, transport operators will increasingly face unfair competition from companies exploiting 'false' self-employed drivers.

Responsible operators including SMEs would be unable to compete. I have correspondence from drivers forced by their employers to become self-employed to circumvent working time rules applying to employees.

In reality they are still tied to their former employer and obliged to accept these appalling conditions that pose a threat to themselves and to all road users.

It is irresponsible to allow this dangerous situation to continue. The vote next week will be very tight. How Irish MEPs vote could tip the balance one way or the other.

Proinsias De Rossa MEP,

Leader, Labour Delegation

Socialists and Democrats Group

European Parliament