The temporary rules allowing HGV drivers to be on the road for longer are expected to be extended until January 2022, according to Unite, which has described the move as ‘potentially illegal’.
The union has learned that the government is looking at continuing the relaxation on driving hours until 23 January. The rules were relaxed on 12 July in an effort to ease pressure on supply chains caused by a shortage of lorry drivers. That relaxation is currently scheduled to end on 3 October.
Existing regulations allow for a “temporary” relaxation in driving hours, but Unite has said what would be a six-month period of extended hours and other recent period of relaxation is not ‘temporary’. It is seeking legal advice on the issue. Since the start of the pandemic, HGV driving regulations have been relaxed for 10 out of 18 months
Under the government’s relaxation, drivers can drive for up to 11 hours a day, compared to the usual maximum of 10 hours, and a total of 99 hours per fortnight (previously 90) with rest periods also reduced.
Sharon Graham, the new 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.
HGV driver shortage
“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.”
Unite believes the driving hours extension is having a cumulative effect on driver fatigue. With the increase in hours continuing through the winter, with longer periods of darkness and poorer weather, the union fears that accidents will increase.
A 2019 Unite survey found that 54% of lorry drivers work more than 50 hours a week and that three quarters report problems with their physical health due to long hours.
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said the government should immediately drop its plans to extend driving hours describing it as “dangerous and reckless”.
“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.”
Speaking in the House of Commons last week, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Drivers’ hours are more flexible but they are still very restricted under the relaxations that we have provided.”
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise business are facing a range of challenges and we are taking steps to support them, including streamlining the process for new HGV drivers and increasing the number of driving tests. Progress has already being made in testing and hiring, with improving pay, working conditions and diversity.
“We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points.”