Belgian police seized and sealed 112 tractor trailers at the Zeebrugge premises of international haulier North Sea Express (NSE) as part of an investigation into social dumping.
The international haulier, which has offices in Zeebrugge, Tilbury Port in the UK, Slovakia and Portugal is being investigated for its use of Romanian drivers, employed via its Slovakian subcontractor East Transport Leasing (ETL).
The action comes just six months after Belgian police raided around twenty offices of Jost Group.
This was as part of a large-scale investigation into organized social dumping involving the establishment of fake companies in Romania and Slovakia, which were allegedly used to employ over 1,100 drivers from the two countries to systematically skip social security contributions to Belgium.
Legal auditor Filiep De Ketelaere of the Belgian public prosecutor’s office told local press in Belgium this week that the public prosecutor was looking into allegations of social dumping at NSE.
De Ketelaere said the public prosecutor’s office was investigating allegations that “the manager of the Slovak company is the same as that of the Belgian company" and that ETL’s Slovakian headquarters are "only a post office box”.
Belgian trade union ACV Transcom said this week it had filed a complaint against NSE and ETL’s employment practices in 2014. ACV Transcom officer Liesbet Verboven said: “We already had a strong suspicion that ETL is a PO Box in Bratislava to circumvent the fiscal and social obligations in Belgium.”
She added: “We are pleased that the court has finally entered the company,” adding: “the fight against social dumping is finally taken seriously and the big players are not being spared"
Trade union BTB official John Reynaert, said: “Belgian hauliers are very resourceful in reducing costs, setting up businesses in Eastern Europe and bringing cheap Eastern European workers here (who) have to live and work as slaves for months on end in the truck, without sanitation. "
North Sea Express MD Dirk Callant was reported in local press as saying that any suggestion NSE had used social dumping to undercut local rates “was strictly wrong".
He said no charges have been laid against the company, which had “every confidence in the outcome of the investigation”.
A spokeswoman at NSE told MT the company did not want to comment further “while there is still an investigation going on”.
NSE, which was founded by Callant in 1987, made a pre-tax profit of €665,274 (£587, 348) on a turnover of €23.55m in 2016 and employs around fifty staff.
As MT went to press Jost Group had yet to respond to requests for comment.