The British Government’s interpretation of the European Road Transport (Working Time) Directive could face ‘legal scrutiny’ from the Transport & General Workers Union (T&G), which claims it will leave many drivers working more hours than they do under existing laws.
Under the directive, mobile workers will be restricted to an average of 48 hours a week, but there are allowances for a maximum 60 hours in any single week.
The union’s national secretary for transport Ron Webb said: “The Government and industry have missed a golden opportunity to modernise the industry. These draft regulations – especially those on flexibility and periods of availability – go to the heart of the directive and undermine it. Quite frankly, the Government has injected real confusion.
“It would be surprising if the employers welcomed these plans, but the T&G certainly believes there is no real benefit to drivers.”
The union is believed to be considering asking the European Court to overrule elements of the UK’s implementation.
The draft regulations were issued by the Department for Transport for consultation at the beginning of the month, comments are requested by 12 December, with the directive due to come in to force on 23 March, 2005.
The union said the draft regulations lacked clarity over the definition of waiting time for drivers – known as periods of availability – when vehicles are being loaded or unloaded.
The union believes this time should be included in the working week because some drivers, especially those in retail distribution, will clock up 65-hour weeks. The union said it will cause confusion in sectors such as petroleum distribution where waiting times are shorter.
And its views have been echoed by the United Road Transport Union. General secretary Bob Monks said: “I am genuinely concerned at the Government’s apparent lack of any kind of understanding of the environment that drivers work in. It has failed to take notice of drivers’ views and has failed completely in its duty to protect drivers under health and safety legislation.”
Monks said the union had hoped the directive would make the industry more attractive to new drivers, through reduced hours, and would help to ease the shortage of 45,000 drivers, but it now looks as though its introduction will lead to even more driver vacancies.
However, the union’s criticisms have come under fire from trade body the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
FTA chief executive Richard Turner said: “Those pundits and commentators who are now picking apart the draft regulations and criticising, in some cases their clarity, and in others their enormous flexibility, are so out of touch.”
But haulage operators have also given the draft regulations a lukewarm reaction.
Barry Proctor, owner of Stoke-based Barry Proctor Services, said: “The Government has bent over backwards to make the regulations flexible, but I have sympathy with the unions because they don’t go far enough to protect drivers. There needs to be a cap on periods of availability because sometimes drivers can wait at retailers’ regional distribution centres for around five hours, which is draining and depressing, and then be expected to drive around the country for eight hours.”