Anyone who wonders what it is like when money comes in and then goes straight out again only has to go with Carlos Torres to a filling station. Carlos, 25, who runs his family's firm Contorver, drives a lorry with the capacity to pull 26 tonnes and operates in the construction sector. A few months ago, it cost 900 euros to fill the tank with diesel. Today, it costs 1,350 euros. Contorver has 18 lorries.
"The figures don't add up. The diesel used to be about 40 per cent of the cost of running a lorry. Now it's 70 per cent. It's absolutely unsustainable," he says. Like others, he has been on strike since Thursday last week. The rise in the price of fuel is putting his business at risk, he says.
Many people are in the same situation. The fairground has become an improvised centre of operations for hauliers in Malaga. They meet there to discuss what action to take and what will happen next, after deciding last week that they couldn't carry on. Most are self-employed; only a few receive a salary. They are united by their fear of what they already see as an existential crisis and of a government that seems incapable of making a move in the right direction. The announcement that a 500-million-euro assistance fund was to be created hasn't convinced them. All the lorry drivers who talked to us about the situation on Wednesday afternoon agreed there was only one way out of this: to reduce the tax on fuel.
"We don't want grants and subsidies because they involve so much bureaucracy and if you get them at all it won't be till the end of the year. All we want is to work," says Fernando Jiménez. His company, Hermanos Jiménez, has eight lorries which transport skips for the construction industry all over the province. Fernando, who has been driving lorries since he was 18, has seen different crises. The economic crisis in 2008 was one of the worst, but what is happening now, he says, is scaring him more because his business cannot make a profit. "It is the worst situation we have ever experienced. We have plenty of work, but we can't afford to do it," he says.
A litre of diesel now costs around two euros, higher than ever before. For Fernando, it means that from the moment he gets into the cab and starts the engine, he is losing money. "A lorry like this normally brings in about 60 euros a day in profit. Now, eight hours of work will cost you 80 euros," he says. Can't they pass the extra cost to the client? Fernando shakes his head. "With new clients, maybe, but we normally work on contracts for six months or a year. I have to comply with what I signed. And in any case, if I put my prices up by much, I'll end up with no clients," he says.
There is another danger too, as Rafael Rosado, the head of Grupo San Carlos, explains. His fleet includes five lorries with the capacity to pull 18 tonnes. That uses an awful lot of fuel. "If we start putting our prices up we end up in a spiral of inflation which would ruin us," he says.
Rafael doesn't agree with the government's proposed aid package, either. "They must reduce tax on fuel. That is the only thing that will help everybody. This situation isn't only unsustainable for us, it's unsustainable for everyone," he says.
Until now the sector has coped with the increasing fuel prices, but after two years of the pandemic and the sudden rise in cost because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, many companies are running out of funds. Jesús Arranz owns Aquatrans 2000, a firm with 17 40-tonne lorries. "I have never seen such a dangerous situation for the sector," he says. "Nobody is sleeping properly. I am so stressed. I have 24 employees. That's 24 families who depend on me," he says. He doesn't believe in direct incentives, either. "500 million euros sounds a lot, but if you divide it among all the hauliers in Spain it works out at around 300 euros each, and that's not enough," he insists.
The cost of fuel isn't the only problem. A 26-tonne lorry costs around 140,000 euros to buy, and monthly repayments come to about 1,500 euros. If the price of fuel means it is impossible to make a profit, the companies won't be able to meet their financial commitments and bankruptcy looms on the horizon.
How much longer can they hold out? "Obviously, every day that passes is in the government's favour, but we can't stop now," says Fernando.
For the moment, hauliers in Malaga have agreed to carry on with protests such as slow convoys in the city centre to draw attention to their plight, and they hope taxi drivers will join the strike. Apart from that, they can only hope for a quick solution to the problem.