The Government’s latest plan to extend lorry driver hours will not resolve the problem and is dangerous, warns Unite.
The union, which represents tens of thousands of HGV drivers, says it is ‘dismayed’ by news that the government is intent on further relaxing regulations governing how long lorry drivers can work.
The government is currently undertaking a snap consultation exercise on extending the relaxation on the driving regulations from Sunday 9 January for a further four weeks until 6 February.
They say this is a result of the Omicron Covid variant and an increase in lorry driver sickness and absence.
Chronic shortage of lorry drivers
The government has been operating a relaxation of the driving hour regulations since July last year, due to a chronic shortage of lorry drivers and the effect of the Covid pandemic.
Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the regulations have been relaxed for most of the time.
Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said: “The government is increasingly resembling a one-trick pony when it comes to dealing with lorry driver shortages and is intent on pursuing a policy which has no regard for the health of drivers’ and the safety of road users.
“Rather than constantly relaxing driving regulations, the government needs to finally begin to address the issues of long hours, excessive and irregular shift patterns and the lack of welfare and parking facilities that have created the driver shortage crisis in the first place.”
She added: “Unite is entirely dedicated to defending the jobs, pay and conditions of our members and we will fully support any member who believes that working excessive hours is damaging their health or placing themselves or others in danger.”
Government has failed to undertake an impact assessment
Unite has also discovered, using a Freedom of Information request, that the government has failed to undertake an impact assessment on the effect of the extended hours on drivers’ health and road users’ safety, as it is a ‘temporary measure’.
The FOI reply confirmed: “An impact assessment is not required for regulations that have effect for less than 12 months. None of the relaxations to the lorry drivers’ hours regulations made since March 2020 has been for more than 12 months in duration and so no impact assessments have been done.”
Unite says that when it gave evidence to the Transport select committee in November last year, they revealed that the relaxation of driver hours was becoming increasingly ineffective, with just 154 companies having applied for the latest relaxation – a small proportion of the thousands of hauliers.
Under the government’s relaxation scheme, drivers can drive for up to 11 hours a day, compared to the normal maximum of 10 hours, and a total of 99 hours a fortnight – previously 90 – with rest periods also reduced.
‘Relaxing driving regulations is both dangerous’
Adrian Jones, Unite’s national officer for road haulage said: “Constantly relaxing driving regulations is both dangerous and increasingly ineffective.
“Hauliers are increasingly not applying to utilise the relaxation on driving hours, as drivers are exhausted, they realise it is not safe and their workers will leave if it is implemented.
“The government’s failure to undertake an impact assessment on relaxing the driver regulations, while pretending it is a temporary measure, is a dereliction of leadership and demonstrates that it is pretending that forcing workers to drive for longer is risk-free.”