Harassment and retaliation: The latest scourge for Filipino truck …

BERLIN, Germany – When Jojo Gulle went to Europe to be a truck driver, he hoped for better wages, job stability, and decent living quarters – at least those that were more comfortable than a big wheeler truck stationed in a parking lot in the Netherlands.

It’s been five years now and he has gotten none of those things. Instead, Gulle has been hopping from one transport company to another, fighting exploitative employers who want to cut costs and maximize profits by underpaying drivers and forcing them to live and work in substandard conditions.

As Europe’s shortage of truck drivers reaches what trade unions have called “crisis levels,” drivers like Gulle continue to bear the brunt. 

Gulle spoke to Rappler from Warsaw, Poland where he has been for over a month now dealing with another personal crisis: the loss of his driver’s license and temporary residence permit issued in Poland. 

Gulle suspects that his employer, Trucksbanden Koning BV/TBK Transport PL (TBK Transport), orchestrated the theft in retaliation for Gulle’s cooperation with trade unions lobbying for just working conditions and wages for drivers.

Without these documents, Gulle is unable to work as a truck driver. Neither is he able to get occasional driving and delivery jobs just to get by. 

In a police report, Gulle alleged that his driver’s license and work permit were stolen from his wallet inside his truck on February 4. The other cards that were in his wallet were untouched. 

“Ako lang naman ang may susi sa truck ko at saka ‘yung may-ari,” said Gulle. (I’m the only one with keys to my truck. Me and the owner.) On the evening of the theft, the owner asked a mechanic to check Gulle’s truck while the owner engaged him in circuitous conversation in his office.

“Alam nila na isa ako sa nakikipag-cooperate sa mga trade union laban sa mga transport companies na tulad nila.” (They know that I am cooperating with trade unions fighting against transport companies like them.) Gulle alleged that the conversation with his employer was meant to lure him away from his truck.

On Gulle’s allegations, TBK owner Zeriosa Julian said, “How would I know where his documents are? We provided him assistance to replace those documents. Beyond that, there is nothing more I can do for him.”

Class action suit

Gulle furnished Rappler with a copy of a list detailing 15 complaints against TBK Transport. The various violations of Dutch labor laws range from low payment and delayed payment of wages, no health and insurance, lack of transparency in deductions made on driver’s salaries by not issuing payslips. 

Additionally, the company did not cover the cost of renewal of documents, forcing drivers to get behind the wheel even with expired work permits and drivers’ licenses.

The Dutch Federation of Trade Union (FNV), which represents truck drivers, confirmed that the organization is filing a class action suit against TBK for non-compliance with wage regulations. FNV is demanding backpay of wages owed to drivers, as well as payment of wages in accordance with Dutch labor laws.

Julian, the owner of TBK, slammed the allegations in the FNV class action suit as “lies” and “bullsh*t” based on “fake information.” 

“We have many Filipino drivers, they have good salary and…good working conditions. If one guy complains, that is one guy, You cannot make everyone happy.”

“Europe is screaming and shouting, ‘We need more drivers,’” said FNV officer Edwin Atema.

“This company (TBK) is expanding rapidly and is putting all their trucks on the road. They are hiring drivers from India, Sri Lanka, and even from countries within the European Union to fill in the gap,” said Atema who was a former truck driver himself. 

Atema confirmed the allegations made by Gulle and the other Filipino truckers. 

“Many drivers don’t have written contracts. We have had cases where drivers have been kicked out their trucks and put out on the streets. The worst is that there are the vulnerable workers who are willing to work even under these conditions because the reality is even being underpaid is better than not getting paid at all. Employers like this are taking advantage of that,” said Atema.

Play Video Harassment and retaliation: The latest scourge for Filipino truck drivers in Europe

Crisis ‘spiraling out of control’

According to a recent International Road Transport Union (IRU) report[1], the shortages of truck and coach drivers in Europe are “spiralling out of control.” The prospect of older truckers easing into retirement and the lack of younger drivers could bring the total shortage in Europe by two million by 2026.

Consumers continue to feel the pinch. In 2021, vehicle owners in the United Kingdom found grocery shelves empty[2] and gas pumps dry.[3] The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic crippling supply chains and the UK’s exit from the European Union (BREXIT) exacerbated the shortage of trained truck drivers to deliver everyday goods.

In the Netherlands, transport strikes[4] have dragged on since February as Dutch trade unions and public transport operators are unable to reach an agreement on higher wages, work contracts, and working hours.

Germany was brought to a standstill by a nationwide 24-hour public transport[5] strike over pay disputes.

Cases of human trafficking dismissed

Rappler first reported on the case of Gulle and Fillipino truck drivers in 2020. Back then, Gulle was working for Danish transport company, Kurt Beier, along with other Filipinos and Sri Lankans recruited from their home countries. The Filipino drivers had first traveled to Malaysia and made their way to Europe via Poland. 

Once in Europe, Gulle and the drivers found themselves working long hours and being paid less than half the wages of their European counterparts. The worst part, according to Gulle, was living in their trucks without proper heating and sanitation. 

When the Danish police came to their rescue, the case was marked as the most extreme case of human trafficking in the Scandinavian nation. In 2021, Danish courts dismissed the case of human trafficking but slapped Kurt Beier with a US$19,000 fine[6] for violating Denmark’s building act by housing the drivers in unsafe conditions.

A similar case of human trafficking lodged by nine Filipino truck drivers against King’s Transport in the Netherlands was dismissed the same year. [7]

Poland: Backdoor to Europe

Poland has become the backdoor to Europe for drivers coming from the Philippines. Apart from being known for its lax issuance of work and residence permits to foreign workers, Poland allows transport companies to register their companies in the country and operate within the European Union. 

This allows companies to pay drivers low monthly minimum wages of about $780[8] but earn from operating in the most affluent countries like Germany and the Netherlands. Drivers in these countries earn up to double or triple that amount for doing the same job.

In 2021, Poland issued more than 500,000 work permits to foreigners.[9] Data from the Polish statistical office[10] shows an estimated 2.6% of foreign work permits being issued to Filipinos, ranking them among the five foreign nationals given the right to work in Poland. 

Jobs in manufacturing, construction, transport, and administration are the most common occupations for foreign workers. – Rappler.com


  1. ^ report (www.iru.org)
  2. ^ grocery shelves empty (www.reuters.com)
  3. ^ gas pumps dry. (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ transport strikes (www.dutchnews.nl)
  5. ^ nationwide 24-hour public transport (www.dw.com)
  6. ^ slapped Kurt Beier with a US$19,000 fine (www.aljazeera.com)
  7. ^ dismissed the same year.  (www.rappler.com)
  8. ^ $780 (www.reuters.com)
  9. ^ issued more than 500,000 work permits to foreigners. (www.statista.com)
  10. ^ Polish statistical office (stat.gov.pl)

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