Government playing ‘Russian roulette’ with road users’ safety

After relaxing rules government has no record of foreign lorries on UK roads

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Unite, which represents tens of thousands of lorry drivers, has discovered that the government is failing to monitor how many foreign lorries are entering and leaving the UK under a controversial scheme introduced last year.

In a panic move aimed at tackling the HGV driver crisis, the government changed the cabotage rules at the end of October. This allowed companies from anywhere in the world to send lorries with foreign drivers to the UK to work unlimited hours, making unlimited deliveries, in any 14 day period. For that time the drivers can sleep in their cabs but after the two weeks is up they are supposed to leave the UK.

But Unite has now established, through a freedom of information (FOI) request, that there is no monitoring by the Department for Transport (DfT) of how many foreign companies and lorries have taken advantage of the policy, which countries they have come from and how many lorries have remained in the UK beyond the 14 day period. The DfT told Unite that it does not monitor the results of its relaxed rules.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “This is sheer incompetence by the government, which is playing Russian roulette with British road users. It introduced this knee-jerk reaction to the lorry driver crisis last year, now they tell us they don’t know how many foreign lorry drivers have come, how many hours they work when they are here, and if they go home after the 14 day working period. It’s literally an accident waiting to happen, based on the illegal super-exploitation of these drivers.

“Unite is dedicated to protecting the jobs, pay and conditions of its members,” she added. “If it receives any evidence that a failure to abide by the UK’s employment laws, road safety rules or driving regulations is impacting on the jobs and conditions of our lorry deriver members, then we will take action to stop that.”

With the government unable to record how many lorries are entering and leaving the UK under its cabotage changes, the only way that these vehicles can be monitored and checked if they are complying with UK rules on vehicle standards and driving regulations is through on-the-spot inspections.

However Unite revealed last month through a previous FOI request that such checks are vanishingly rare and that the average UK lorry can travel the equivalent of three and half times round the world before it was likely to be inspected. The number of on-the-spot inspections declined by 39 per cent since 2016/17.

Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said, “Not only is the government clueless about how many foreign lorries are currently on UK roads, but the only on-the-spot inspections to ensure these vehicles are roadworthy and driving regulations are being observed are as rare as hens’ teeth.

“Rather than allowing foreign lorries unlimited access to the UK to tackle driver shortages, the government should be tackling the root causes of the driver crisis, low pay, long hours and the lack of decent parking and welfare facilities for drivers.”

In a separate development, in its FOI response the DfT further admitted that the only information it has on cabotage rates are still compiled by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office (despite the UK having left the EU nearly two years ago), and the most up to date figures were only recorded to 2019.

By Barckley Sumner

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