Trade union Unite has warned against extending the amount of time drivers can operate their lorries, saying that while its 50,000 members are willing to be flexible, safety must not be compromised.
It follows the government’s announcement on Sunday that it is extending the hours that supermarkets can receive deliveries, to help retailers replenish stocks in high demand because of the covid-19 coronavirus.
If the government does decide to change the driving regulations this should be done in full co-operation with Unite and the industry” – Adrian Jones, Unite
Current rules mean that some deliveries are prohibited overnight so that vehicles do not disturb residents. The government said it will temporarily relax the enforcement of restrictions to provide greater flexibility.
It added that it is also looking to ensure supply chains function as normal and that transport secretary Grant Shapps stands ready to implement existing rules that allow for extensions on drivers’ hours to help respond to emergency situations.
The rules would help relieve a shortage of delivery drivers but would still require 45-minute breaks after four and a half hours of driving to make sure workers are properly rested.
The government says it would work closely with employers to make sure the safety of drivers and other road users is protected.
Working time regulations on the road
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “In order to meet the increased demand as a result of the coronavirus, many lorry drivers are being asked to work long hours. While Unite recognises that increased flexibility is required to cope with this increased demand, it must not be allowed to compromise drivers’ safety.
“If changes in normal working practices are required than Unite believes that employers should enter into negotiations with Unite, to reassure drivers their safety is not being compromised. If the government does decide to change the driving regulations this should be done in full co-operation with Unite and the industry. Changes should be kept to a minimum and should be for a clearly defined period.”
“Drivers already report high levels of fatigue and exhaustion during their normal working time, which affects their physical and mental health as well as their family life and relationships. Lifting the regulations, without proper safeguards, will put more strain on them which could result in them being a danger to other road users and themselves.”
Following a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee yesterday, Boris Johnson said that the UK remains in the “contain” phase of the response, but that this is “extremely unlikely to work on its own, and that is why we are making extensive preparations for a move to the delay phase”.
As of today there were 373 confirmed cases of covid-19 in the UK and six deaths.