Lorry drivers' hours extension 'reckless'

Unite warns 'law-breaking' fresh extension of lorry drivers' hours brings danger to roads

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Unite has warned that the government’s plans to continue to relax the maximum driving timing for lorry drivers, is dangerous, reckless and potentially illegal.

Unite has learned that the government is currently undertaking a technical consultation on continuing the relaxation on driving hours from Monday, October 4 until Sunday, January 23.

There is a concern that the government could be acting illegally. The existing regulations allow for a ‘temporary relaxation’ in driving hours. It could be argued that a six month period of extended hours and the other recent period of relaxation, is not ‘temporary’ but is in reality a permanent change. Unite is seeking legal advice on this matter.

The rules on driving hours were ‘temporarily’ relaxed from July 12 and that relaxation was due to end on Sunday, October 3. Under the government’s relaxation, drivers can drive for up to 11 hours a day (compared to a maximum of 10 hours) and a total of 99 hours a fortnight (previously 90) with rest periods also reduced.

The government has repeatedly relaxed the driving regulations since the beginning of the pandemic. Since March 2020 the driving regulations have been relaxed for 10 out of 18 months.

Unite is highly concerned that the extended driving hours, which the government is reliant on to tackle the shortage of lorry drivers, is having a cumulative effect on driver fatigue. With the increased hours now continuing throughout the autumn and winter months, with longer periods of darkness and poorer weather, Unite fears that accidents will increase.

Research by Unite has already revealed that the number of lorry drivers being forced out of the industry has dramatically increased in the past decade and by further extending driving hours, ill health problems will become worse.

Much of the shortage of drivers in the industry is a result of workers leaving the sector. It is estimated that 600 drivers leave the industry every week. By continuing to allow drivers to work for longer, Unite believes that more will vote with their feet.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said, “This is a dangerous and reckless decision by the government. The government should immediately drop its plans to extend driving hours.

“Lorry drivers are already working excessive hours and the cumulative effect on fatigue will increase the risk of accidents and damage their health,” he added.

“Rather than short term fixes to the driver shortage, the government needs to implement long term solutions,” Jones continued.

“Drivers need permanent pay rises, rather than one off bonuses, to reflect their skills and crucial role in delivering foods and goods across the UK.

“Action also needs to be taken to introduce minimum standards on pay and conditions, to end once and for all the race to the bottom and undercutting of wages which is at the heart of the current lorry driver shortages.”

By Barckley Sumner

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