'Piling more pressure' on 'exhausted drivers'

Industry bodies echo Unite's opposition to extension of maximum lorry driver hours

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The main industry body for road haulage stands with Unite in its opposition to recent measures announced by the government that will extend lorry drivers’ hours.

From Monday (June 12), the maximum time heavy goods vehicles can spend on the road in one day will increase from nine hours to ten hours. The measure, which the government said will be temporary, was introduced to tackle a massive shortage in lorry drivers that threatens to leave supermarket shelves empty.

This week, Unite said that the increase in hours will only ‘make a bad situation worse’ as lorry drivers will leave the industry – and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said it agrees.

The RHA estimates that there is a shortage of between 60,000 and 100,000 lorry drivers in the industry. It is understood that the shortage has been exacerbated by the pandemic and restrictions on EU immigration post-Brexit.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett told BBC Breakfast on Thursday (July 8) morning of the industry’s concerns over the extended hours.

“This is about piling more pressure on drivers who are exhausted,” he said. “They’ve done an amazing job over the last year, keeping the nation fed through the pandemic. Their hours are long anyway and so we’re piling more pressure on. That’s going to probably cause many drivers to reconsider why they want to stay in this industry. And there’s also a road safety issue.”

BBC Breakfast went on to highlight that Unite has vowed to support lorry drivers who refuse to extend their hours on health and safety grounds. When asked whether this was something that the RHA would get behind, Burnett responded, “We would support that.”

“We’ve been really clear with [the Department of Transport] to say that this not the right approach to tackle this crisis,” he went on to say. “We’re getting feedback from the employers, the businesses that employ drivers, they’re deeply concerned about the measures that are being taken.”

The RHA isn’t the only industry body that vehemently opposes extending driver hours. Logistics UK, the body representing freight businesses, has also warned that the extended hours would “heap more pressure on drivers who are already stretched to the limit to deliver”.

“Existing drivers have been working flat out since the start of the pandemic, and this could be the final straw for many of them,” James Firth of Logistics UK told the BBC.

“Instead of trying to paper over the gaps, government should be working with industry to produce a plan to support moving drivers through the current bottleneck of HGV driving tests.”

Unite has long highlighted that the only way to tackle increasing lorry driver shortages now and in the long-term is by increasing pay and improving working conditions.

Unite has produced a manifesto of change for the sector, whose key demands include dramatically improving pay and welfare facilities for drivers in order to make the industry more attractive for new entrants.

Commenting on the extension of maximum lorry driver hours, Unite national officer for road transport Adrian Jones said, “This announcement will do nothing to resolve the problem of driver shortages.

“Asking an already exhausted workforce to work even longer is likely to make an already difficult situation worse.

“Driving regulations are highly complex and to announce a relaxation on twitter without any proper detail, has simply created more confusion and uncertainty across the sector,” he added.

“The government should not be announcing a relaxation in driving hours, which are critical to ensure the safety of all road users, without also ensuring that the relevant monitoring and enforcement of the revised rules are in place.

“Unite has been provided with no details of whether monitoring and enforcement of the revised regulations has even been considered,” Jones continued.

“Unite will be advising its members to not place themselves in danger and that if they are too tired to drive safely they have a legal right to refuse to do so. Unite will fully support those who make that decision, legally and industrially.”

By Hajera Blagg

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