'Perfect storm in the worst possible way'

Ministers and bosses ‘dragging feet’ on HGV driver crisis as threat of industrial action grows, says Unite

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Government and haulage bosses have been ‘dragging their feet’ over the escalating HGV driver shortages and should sit down with Unite the union to tackle the underlying causes of the crisis that has resulted in gaps appearing on supermarket shelves across the country – otherwise ballots for industrial action remain on the cards.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimates the shortage of HGV drivers at 100,000 and Unite has described the situation as ‘a perfect storm’ in the worst possible way.

Unite accused the employers and government of doing nothing to deal with ‘a brazen lack of respect’ towards drivers as they tried to squeeze ‘the last drop of profit’ from their contracts.

Unite has pinpointed a number of short and long-term factors that have contributed to the current turmoil which include the HGV driver shortage made worse by an ageing workforce who are retiring; the effect of the ‘pingdemic’; the backlog in tests for new entrants due to Covid restrictions; and European Union (EU) drivers who returned home during the pandemic, but are now deterred from returning to the UK due to Brexit bureaucracy.

Unite national officer for road transport Adrian Jones said, “We call on ministers and employers to stop dragging their feet and sit down with Unite to chart a way forward, otherwise the present-day problems of gaps on supermarket shelves will just get worse.

“It is becoming clearer by the day that we are facing a serious HGV driver shortage across the UK – ‘a perfect storm’ in the worst possible way,” Jones added. “Already gaps are appearing on supermarket shelves, and logistics and hauliers’ organisations are warning August will be a pinch point regarding the shortage of drivers as workers take summer breaks.

“The current shortage of an estimated 100,000 HGV drivers in the UK has highlighted a number of long-running serious discontents in the industry, from poor pay and conditions to inadequate toilet provision and lack of parking facilities,” he continued.

“It is clear that the UK’s HGV drivers have been taken for granted for too long by bosses keen to squeeze the last drop of profit from their contracts – this brazen lack of respect for the workforce is now coming home to roost with mounting calls for industrial action.

“We have been campaigning for some considerable time to have a constructive dialogue with ministers and the employers to get to the root of the problems afflicting the industry,” Jones went on to say. “Unfortunately, the government has allowed this situation to drift and has shown a lack of energy in getting to grips with the unfolding situation. Unite has been banging its head against the wall.

“We need to sit down and come up with a blueprint for a way forward so that the transport arteries of the nation are kept open now and in the future – to assist in this process with have devised a six-point programme to start tackling the shortage of drivers. However, to implement this we need the active co-operation of ministers and the employers which is not there at present.

“Some of the problems the industry face are long-term, such as low pay and long hours; and some are more recent such as the impact of Brexit on the number of EU drivers available,” Jones noted.

“Unite is actively engaging with its members during the summer over the next steps needed to address these deep-seated problems facing the industry – and ballots for future strike action in the autumn remain firmly on the cards.

“Be in no doubt, Unite understands the simmering frustrations and anger. Ministers can no longer allow the current lack of grip over the driver shortages to continue as the UK needs to keep moving food and supplies around the country.

“Unite remains ready to play its part to solve this crisis; however, key principles for us are that decent  pay and conditions are in place, as well as welfare measures for our members when they are on the road, such as better parking facilities and adequate toilet provision.

“At the end of the day the country will grind to a halt without drivers.”

Unite has come up with a six-point plan to alleviate the crisis, which includes improving pay and conditions; tackling the lack of diversity in the industry; simplifying driving hours’ rules; making better parking and facilities a priority; toughening up sanctions for employers denying drivers access to basic facilities; and shifting the cost of accreditation from drivers to employers.

By Shaun Noble

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