Unite warns ‘law-breaking’ fresh extension of lorry drivers’ hours is dangerous

London, UK: The union Unite has warned that the government’s plans to continue to relax the maximum driving timing for lorry drivers, is dangerous, reckless and potentially illegal.

Unite has learned that the government is currently carrying out a technical consultation on continuing the relaxation on driving hours from Monday 4 October until Sunday 23 January.  

The union believes that there is a concern that the government could be acting illegally. The existing regulations allow for a ‘temporary relaxation’ in driving hours. It could be argued that a six-month period of extended hours and the other recent period of relaxation is not ‘temporary’ but is in reality a permanent change. Unite is seeking legal advice on this matter.

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, says Unite.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, said: “These latest proposals are a further knee-jerk response to a crisis wholly created by the employers and the government.

“Years of suppressing drivers’ pay and bypassing European regulations have led us to where we are now. The latest extension on hours will increase pressures on drivers and threaten public safety on UK roads”.

The rules on driving hours were ‘temporarily’ relaxed from 12 July and that relaxation was due to end on Sunday 3 October. The government has repeatedly relaxed the driving regulations since the beginning of the pandemic. Since March 2020 the driving regulations have been relaxed for 10 out of 18 months.

Unite is highly concerned that the extended driving hours, which the government is reliant on to tackle the shortage of lorry drivers, is having a cumulative effect on driver fatigue. With the increased hours now continuing throughout the autumn and winter months, with longer periods of darkness and poorer weather, Unite fears that accidents will increase.

Much of the shortage of drivers in the industry is a result of workers leaving the sector. It is estimated that 600 drivers leave the industry every week. By continuing to allow drivers to work for longer, Unite believes that more will vote with their feet.

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “This is a dangerous and reckless decision by the government. The government should immediately drop its plans to extend driving hours.
 “Lorry drivers are already working excessive hours and the cumulative effect on fatigue will increase the risk of accidents and damage their health.

“Rather than short-term fixes to the driver shortage, the government needs to implement long-term solutions.

“Drivers need permanent pay rises, rather than one off bonuses, to reflect their skills and crucial role in delivering foods and goods across the UK.

“Action also needs to be taken to introduce minimum standards on pay and conditions, to end once and for all the race to the bottom and undercutting of wages which is at the heart of the current lorry driver shortages.”

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