Pay lorry drivers more

POLL: Over half of voters say pay truck drivers more to ease supermarket food shortages

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A strong majority of the public backs pay rises for lorry drivers as UK consumers face continued gaps on supermarket shelves amid a growing lorry driver shortage.

A new survey by pollsters Survation found that 56 per cent of those polled believed employers should pay lorry drivers more. 63 per cent of Labour voters supported a pay rise, while even 56 per cent of Tory voters believed lorry drivers should be paid more.

Growing anger against the government’s failures was also reflected in the survey – a significant number of respondents, 48 per cent, blamed the government for supermarket shortages, with only 14 per cent blaming supermarkets and 14 per cent blaming lorry drivers.

Public opinion aligns with what Unite has said is behind the persistent shortage of lorry drivers, now estimated to stand at 100,000. A majority believed the pandemic, Brexit and low pay among lorry drivers were all fuelling the shortage, with 57 per cent citing low pay as a significant factor. More than half of Conservative voters – 53 per cent – shared this view, while among Labour voters, it stood at 60 per cent.

Last month, Unite spoke to Unite rep and supermarket lorry driver Alan, whose views chime with the latest poll – he believes the only way to tackle the lorry driver shortage is to increase wages and improve terms and conditions.

“Wages aren’t high enough in a sustained, across-the-board way for a job like ours where there is a high level of skill involved,” Alan told UniteLive. “The job now is a lot harder than it was years ago because of the levels of traffic. There isn’t this magic great big pool of young people wanting to do it. They won’t go looking for a truck job because the status simply isn’t there.”

The Survation poll, commissioned by Unite, comes just as the government announced its intention to continue the extension of lorry drivers’ hours until the end of January next year. The government initially brought in a ‘temporary relaxation’ to lorry driver hours in July, with the relaxation set to expire on October 3.

But now, the government is consulting on extending the relaxation of hours until January 23. 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.

Unite is now seeking legal advice on the issue, arguing that a further extension is not in fact temporary as the government indicated it would be and poses safety risks for fatigued drivers and other motorists on the road.

Commenting on the poll, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the survey “seems to show that a considerable section of the public are ahead of the government and the employers on the lorry drivers’ crisis”.

“Like Unite, the public recognise that providing decent jobs, on decent pay, for lorry drivers, would attract more workers to the industry,” she added. “That would be a starter for 10 in beginning to deal with the current crisis. Years of suppressing drivers’ pay and bypassing European regulations have led us to where we are now”.

Meanwhile, Unite national officer Adrian Jones added, “This is confirmation that most people in this country are coming across shortages on our supermarket shelves.

“They believe that the chronic low pay for the lorry drivers who’ve kept our country going during the pandemic is one of the key reasons,” he said.

“The majority of the country, including the majority of Conservative voters, say truck drivers must be paid more. It’s high time that government and the supermarkets got together with Unite to make sure that they are.

“The government cannot solve this crisis by making fewer drivers work ever longer hours,” Jones went on to say. “The public is blaming them for the shortages on the shelves so reckless, legally dubious, quick-fixes that make our roads more dangerous just don’t cut it.

“And the industry cannot shirk its responsibilities on this either,” he continued. “There’s no shortage of trained drivers in the country but there is a shortage of drivers who want to work miserable hours for stingy pay with all the pressure of being on the road.

“Short-term cash bonuses are no substitute for decent pay and pensions.  The industry has to face up to the true causes of this crisis – its decades-long race to the bottom – and work with Unite to address this once and for all.”

By Hajera Blagg

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