European IWT social partners are expecting the Fitness Check on Regulation (EC) 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems by the end of this year.

In 2020, the European Commission initiated a fitness check on market access legislation in inland waterways transport. The aim was to evaluate whether the existing pieces of legislation are still fit for purpose. The IWT social partners – EBU, ESO (united in the IWT Platform) and ETF, European Transport Workers’ Federation – reacted jointly by sending a letter to the Commissioner for Transport, A. Vàlean and Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, N. Schmit. A common position on the legislation that deals with the coordination of social security in European Inland Waterways was therefore presented.


Focus has been on the Regulation (EC) 883/2004 on the coordination of social system, that contains the rules to protect social security rights when moving within the EU, and the Derogation Agreement on determination of legislation applicable to Rhine boatmen, concluded on the basis of Article 16(1) of the Regulation. According to the Derogation, the vessel operator’s seat is the deciding factor in determining which social security legislation applies to crew members. The coordination is hence regulated by two systems: the Rhine and the EU systems. The experiences with application of the Rhine principle have been overwhelmingly positive in the last decades.

We must remember that inland navigation is an extremely international mode of transport. More than 80% of the EU Inland Waterway Transport is crossing national borders. Also crew members come from all over Europe and, sometimes, even from the overseas. For EBU, ESO and ETF, it is therefore crucial to collaborate and respond together: to provide agreed input and to focus on the benefits of current situation.

There are two major elements contributing to the success of the Derogation Agreement for Rhine boatmen:
• The starting point for the Derogation Agreement is that all crew members on board of a ship, nautical and non-nautical, are subjected to the same social security system. A policy goal is that those who are performing the same work at the same place are granted with the same social protection and working conditions.
• The Derogation Agreement is applicable for all crew members on board. They all share the same operator. This implicates a level playing field – no possibility to hire the employees at a lower cost for social security and to bypass the rules.

For the past years, social partners in inland navigation have tried to find ways forward on the subject of social security, unfortunately without much success. However, the efforts will continue for a time being, they would like to continue with the Derogation Agreement as the Rhine principle has a very strong support. A joint statement regarding this objective is currently under preparation.

We have to keep in mind that the IWT sector in Europe can contribute largely to a more sustainable transport system and offer new mobility chances, only if the transparent and adequate social conditions attract qualified personnel.

Ingrid Bloom
Education and Social Committee