On 23 June 2016, the majority of people who voted in the referendum voted for the UK to leave the European Union. Leave voters were motivated by a variety of reasons, including a desire by some for the UK to set its own laws independently from Europe.
Ironically, for some UK businesses, one unforeseen consequence of leaving the EU may be that they will become subject to French and German minimum wage law.
Both countries have passed minimum wage laws that apply to hauliers (whatever their nationality) who are delivering or collecting loads in those countries.
The effect of this can be quite draconian, particularly if the UK haulier (or its sub-contractor) is merely transiting France or Germany, as the law requires drivers of vehicles in transit to be paid at least the minimum wage – currently €9.67 and €8.50 per hour in France and Germany respectively.
The EU has said that, in its view, the minimum wage laws are an unjustified restriction of the freedom to provide services and on free movement of goods. It has also indicated that these laws are disproportionate and discriminatory.
The French and German governments have responded to the EU denying that their laws infringe European Union rules but suspending the operation of the law in relation to hauliers from Member States (although the minimum wage laws continue to apply, and will be enforced, in relation to hauliers from jurisdictions outside the EU).
It would therefore appear to be the case that whilst the UK is a Member State, UK hauliers will be protected, providing their drivers are able to present the authorities with evidence that they are merely transiting the jurisdiction. Once the UK leaves the EU, UK hauliers will be subject to the minimum wage law even if they are merely transiting France and Germany.
In the meantime, and in anticipation of Brexit, I would advise UK hauliers to look at their terms of business with suppliers and customers to try to protect themselves from the consequences of these laws. In particular, hauliers may wish to look at what evidence is required for drivers to prove they are merely transiting France and Germany and seek indemnities from sub-contractors if breaching the laws causes delay or expense.
This article was written by Dominic Ward, a partner with law firm Andrew Jackson, with the assistance of Othmar Traber, a partner with Ahlers & Vogel of Hamburg and Bremen.
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