Unite has warned that proposals to lift immigration rules to allow European lorry drivers to enter the UK for work, will not solve the problems afflicting the industry.
The union, which represents tens of thousands of lorry drivers, issued its warning after stories emerged that the government is considering changing immigration rules to make it far easier for UK companies to recruit lorry drivers from overseas.
It is estimated that there is currently a shortage of around 75,000 lorry drivers in the UK.
Unite believes that in order to resolve the driver shortage the industry has to resolve the problems which are making lorry driving unattractive to new entrants and resulting in existing drivers leaving the profession. The primary issue is low pay in the sector. Other areas of major concern include poor working conditions and inferior welfare facilities.
Unite has launched a manifesto for lorry drivers aimed at transforming their working lives.
If the government does support a short-term fix and allows the recruitment of European drivers, Unite believes that safeguards must be put in place to prevent workers being exploited.
Unite believes that workers must be directly employed by hauliers and not forced to work via employment agencies. Drivers should be recruited on contracts of a decent duration, pay rates should be in line with existing workers and they should not be forced to pay excessive fees for accommodation or travel.
Unite national officer for road transport Adrian Jones said, “Proposals to recruit mainly Eastern European drivers to solve the lorry driver shortage, risks recreating the errors that have caused the crisis in the first place. At best it is a sticking plaster and at worst there is a danger it could make a bad situation worse.
“Workers are voting with their feet and leaving the profession due to low pay,” he added. “If employers think they can bring in drivers from Europe to suppress wages this will only make the problem worse.
“Lorry driving is a highly skilled, stressful and demanding profession. Unless workers are properly paid then they are not going to be willing to undertake this work,” Jones continued.
“If the government does allow companies to recruit lorry drivers this must be contingent on them following strict rules in order to ensure that workers are not exploited as cheap labour.”
By Barckley Sumner