The Government has announced plans to extend the relaxation on driving regulations from this Sunday (9 January) for a further four weeks until 6 February, in response to increased absences due to the omicron variant.
Relaxations to driving hour regulations have been implemented continually since July last year as a result of chronic shortages and the effect of the pandemic – 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.
‘One trick pony’
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham 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 has created the driver shortage crisis in the first place.
Unite the Union warned that these measures have become increasingly ineffective – with less and less operators opting to apply for these relaxations – and were dangerous.
‘Drivers are exhausted’
Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said: “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.”
Meanwhile, the Government has extended the Seasonal Workers visa scheme to the end of 2024 to allow foreign workers to pick edible and ornamental crops, but employers were warned this isn’t a long-term solution.