Executive summary

  • The Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR), in partnership with the European Commission, publishes annual and biannual reports dealing with the European inland navigation market. Thematic reports are now also published and cover certain aspects of the inland navigation market.
  • The monitoring of labour market indicators in a given market is particularly relevant to assess the situation of human capital in this sector and its future development. Human capital is one of the most important resources and a fundamental precondition for a high-quality performance and economic growth of a sector. Given that no report providing detailed data on this topic at the level of the European inland navigation sector is currently available, it was decided to draft a thematic report with the objective of improving knowledge and information about the European inland navigation sector labour market.
  • When investigating all possible sources (statistical offices, employment administration, social security organisations, waterway administrations, ministries of transport and of labour, etc.), detailed data about employment and labour market conditions in inland waterway transport were found. However, given that several sources of data sometimes exist for one and the same country, data might be more or less different for the same country depending on the source used. This is mainly because different methodologies are used by different organisations. In this report, priority was given to the sources which appeared to be the most reliable.
  • The reliability of datasets from service record books or certificate of qualifications is often rather low. In that regard, the “European Crew Database” (ECDB) which is expected to be operational by mid-January 2022, should be of great added value to enhance the monitoring of employment indicators in the European inland navigation sector.
  • Based on quantitative data and qualitative information collected in the context of this report, the following main conclusions can be highlighted.
  • In inland waterway (IWW) passenger transport, employment increased in recent years, in particular due to the boom in river cruising. The growth in employment at the level of the whole EU was 26% between 2008 and 2018. Employment in IWW passenger transport reached 26,156 persons in 2018 and has overtaken IWW freight transport (23,520 in 2018) in terms of employment in the years 2015/2016.


    Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_1a_se_r2)
    Employment = Self-employment, employees and helping family members


  • This positive trend in IWW passenger transport employment is present in Rhine countries (e.g. Germany, Switzerland), Danube countries (e.g. Austria, Hungary, Romania) and also for Italy.
  • In IWW freight transport, the overall employment trend – with regard to the degree of employment – was rather negative in central and eastern Europe. This trend is demonstrated in the present report by means of available data for Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. For Romania, the largest IWW Danube country, the employment trend was found to be more positive. For western European countries, the employment trend in freight transport has not been positive over the last ten years. However, whether it was really decreasing or rather at a constant level largely depends on the database being examined.
  • Evidence shows that one main explanation for the negative employment trend in IWW freight transport in central and eastern Europe could be due to an overly low wage level. According to official figures, the average monthly gross wage in the water transport sector in the Czech Republic was 872 Euro in 2017, thereby 16% lower than the average wage level in the Czech transport sector and 23% lower than the average wage level in the whole Czech economy. In the Hungarian IWT sector, the average monthly earnings for IWT workers amounted to 602 Euro, which was about 29% below the average wage level in the entire Hungarian economy. In Serbian IWT the wage of IWT workers was 616 Euro in 2019.
  • Compared to the wage level in western Europe, wages in eastern Europe are very low: the monthly gross median income for full-time IWW workers under the social security regime in Germany was 2,780 Euro in IWW freight transport in 2017 and 2,917 Euro in IWW passenger transport. Even if one takes into account the possibility that actual wages might be higher than the wages as stated in the official figures, it can be assumed that there is a significant wage gap between central and eastern Europe on the one hand, and western Europe on the other hand. This is confirmed by statistical data on the level of personnel costs per employee per country in the EU.
  • According to Eurostat figures (Structural business statistics [sbs_na_1a_se_r2]) the seven countries with the lowest personnel costs per employee in IWT in the EU are (in ascending order regarding the cost level): Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland. Personnel costs per employee in German IWW freight transport are around three to five times higher than in these countries, which matches approximately the relationship between wages from national wage data as shown in figure 2 (See also: Inland navigation in Europe, Market observation, annual report 2020: https://inland-navigation-market.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CCNR_annual_report_EN_2020_BD.pdf, page 125).


    Sources: German Federal Labour Agency, Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic, Czech Ministry of Transport, National Statistical Office of Serbia, Hungarian National Employment Service
    * For the Czech Republic, employment and wage data concern NACE sector 50 (water transport) in general, but around 99% of the employed persons in Czech water transport are estimated to be employed in inland water transport.


  • Statistical data suggest a rather high rate of migration of inland waterway workers from central and eastern Europe to western Europe. This type of migration tends to increase, for instance in Germany, a major country of destination especially for Czech, Polish and Romanian IWT workers. A similar observation can be made regarding Luxembourg, where a high number of IWT workers from the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania (but also from western European countries) work for companies established in Luxembourg. Serbs and Hungarians are often employed in the Austrian and the German IWT sectors.
  • Figure 3 presents data on the number of workers (employees) with a nationality from central and eastern Europe, and being employed in Luxembourg, Germany and Austria. Hereby only the nationalities with the highest frequencies are shown. For Switzerland and the Netherlands, two other countries with a high share of foreign IWT workers, there were unfortunately no detailed data according to nationalities available.


    Sources: German Federal Labour Agency, Inspection générale de la sécurité sociale sur la base des données du Centre commun de la sécurité sociale, Austrian Public Employment Service
    * Data are for 2019 (Austria, Germany) and for 2020 (Luxembourg). Nationalities with small frequencies are not shown. Serbs in Austria include persons with former Yugoslavia nationality.


  • In Germany, the east-west migration leads to a rising share of foreigners in freight transport employment, mainly from Poland, Czech Republic and Romania. The share of foreigners among employees (social security regime) in the German IWW freight transport sector is 34.7% (2019) and therefore significantly higher than in the whole German transport sector (18.7%) and also higher than in the German IWW passenger transport sector (11.0%). This might reflect a rather low employment attractiveness of the freight inland waterways transport (IWT) sector for Germans. Although the Austrian IWT sector is significantly smaller than the German IWT sector, it has an even higher share of foreigners with 41% (freight and passenger traffic together). Luxembourg clearly has the highest share of foreigners of all countries, with 99.5% of all IWT workers in freight transport being of a nationality other than Luxembourg.
  • Another phenomenon of the IWT labour market is the ageing process. Detailed long run data for Belgium show that ageing is particularly a problem within the group of self-employed barge owner-operators, although also within the group of employees. This higher degree of ageing amongst the self-employed begs additional explanations, which were found during expert interviews amongst banks. They point to a combination of social, economic and cultural influencing factors.
  • In particular, living on a vessel comes with specific challenges and it can be observed that many young people favour land-based jobs with regular working hours and weekends at home. This factor is highly relevant, for example in western Europe, where around 80% of IWW freight companies are independent owner-operators, whose working hours cannot be restricted to a regular schedule.
  • Altogether, the factors described above lead to a certain shortage of labour in inland navigation, a concern for both the passenger and freight inland navigation market, which can in particular be observed for qualified personnel at management level and qualified boatmasters in the liquid cargo segment.
  • Other factors contributing to this observed shortage of staff are of a technical nature. As the work required from crew members is becoming more and more technical, inland navigation companies often seek even more specialised profiles than before, and these are difficult to find.
  • The overall economic framework conditions in different market segments of IWT are also influencing factors. The inland navigation passenger transport market, in particular its river cruise segment, has been following a positive trend over the last years. Passenger numbers in river cruising in the EU increased by 10% in 2019 compared to 2018, and between 2012 and 2019 figures more than doubled, reaching 1.8 million passengers in 2019 (See: Inland navigation in Europe, Market observation, annual report 2020: https://inland-navigation-market.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/CCNR_annual_report_EN_2020_BD.pdf, page 134). In freight transport, the development is less positive overall, with a decrease of total IWW goods transport performance in the EU of 7% from 2014 to 2019 (Eurostat [iww_go_atygo]). Of course, differences according to market and goods segments exist. The development and the outlook are for example more difficult in parts of the dry cargo market, and more positive in the liquid cargo or the container market. Already now, these differences in economic development of market segments are reflected in the employment figures.
  • In light of the above, ways to strengthen the attractiveness of the sector must therefore continue to be a priority. More fundamental measures with an effect on all these factors (may they be socio-cultural, economic or financial) should be taken into account in order to increase the attractiveness of the IWW labour market, in particular for the younger generation. Several options were outlined during interviews with banks engaged in IWT financing. For instance, the reorganisation of the logistical supply chain, with more backward and forward vertical integration as a way of strengthening the position of IWT within the whole supply chain and to increase its bargaining and economic power. The development of cooperatives was also seen as an important option to better align economic necessities (efficiency, profitability, high workload) with social and cultural aspects (private and social life, family, etc.) of inland navigation workers. Of course, the continued promotion of the range of possible job opportunities in the sector, both on board and ashore, is also essential.



  • Inland navigation market observation activities are carried out by the CCNR in partnership with the EU Commission, the Danube Commission and IWT industry associations. In this context, the CCNR market observation team was tasked with the drafting of a study on the labour market in European IWT.
  • The objective of this report was to provide an EU overview and where possible a more detailed country by country analysis of the IWT labour market in Europe, based on statistical data and qualitative information. Several aspects of the European IWT labour market were also examined, such as the main legislative development related to the European IWT labour market, the passenger and freight market structures, their respective economic and employment trends, education in the sector and its attractiveness, company succession and posted workers.
  • Although the report refers to the Covid-19 crisis in some places, the main datasets that constitute the statistical basis for this report predate the Covid-19 crisis. It therefore cannot be excluded that this crisis will have an impact on some of the trends presented in this report. However, such impacts cannot be anticipated or further analysed until a critical mass of data is available.
  • It is also important to note that the Covid-19 crisis was a supplementary hurdle to overcome when it came to data collection. Indeed, the data analysed in this report were not always directly accessible for statistical offices or other offices providing data. It often required them to carry out some specific data research in a situation where those offices were already overwhelmed with requests related to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. This is also true for many players with whom we have been in contact in the context of this report and we are very grateful for their cooperation and availability.
  • In the introduction to this report, it appeared important to outline the other main difficulties encountered. In particular, no exhaustive database is currently available to monitor all the labour market aspects of the European inland navigation sector. In addition, for some aspects, such as those relating to the posting of workers in inland navigation, very little quantitative data is available.
  • Another difficulty lies in the fact that, depending on the countries, labour markets are also organised differently, and sometimes relevant competencies are also decentralised or transferred to specific agencies. Identifying the right contact point depending on the type of information requested and the geographical area under study, can therefore become quite a challenge.
  • Even in the case where many different sources for one and the same country were found, the methodologies were sometimes different, making it difficult to deduce certain trends regarding the level of employment over time. Besides, structural comparisons between different countries were not always possible, as the definition of an indicator or the exact breakdown of a variable was sometimes different from one country to another. Whenever possible, an explanation was given in the report as to the type of source chosen and the reasons for choosing one source over another. For instance, it was decided to use the Eurostat structural business statistics (SBS) dataset when providing an overview of the IWT labour market in Europe, as they allow for comparability of data at EU level between countries. However, the scope of such data is limited (i.e. employment in loading/unloading activities of goods in ports and employment in operation of transport infrastructure not included; people working for companies with primary activities other than IWT not counted as employed in IWW even if they work on a vessel) and can be incomplete for some countries. Another hurdle was the lack of reliability of service record books and certificates of qualification which was identified at first as an important source of information for this report. However, as it is explained in more detail in the report, such sources do not allow to differentiate between active and retired workers and risks that IWT workers registered in such databases are counted twice (or even more) are high.
  • In light of the above, while all efforts were deployed to obtain as much information as possible, it was not always possible to gather data with the same level of detail and based on the same indicators and methodology for all European countries.