Unite, the UK’s leading union, which represents tens of thousands of lorry drivers, has warned that the government’s decision to press ahead with a relaxation of the cabotage rules risks the safety of all road users.

Rules changed

In an attempt to lessen the problems caused by a shortage of lorry drivers, the Department for Transport has relaxed the rules on foreign lorries making deliveries and collecting goods in the UK. Previously, European Union drivers were restricted to making just two collections or deliveries before having to leave Great Britain.

Under the government’s relaxation of the rules, for the next six months (until 30 April 2022) employers from anywhere in the world (not just the EU) lorry drivers can be sent to the UK for 14 days to make unrestricted collections and deliveries.

Short-term fix

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is yet another example of the government using a short-term fix rather than developing long-term solutions to the shortage of lorry drivers in the UK.

 "The drivers involved are at extreme risk of being exploited with absolutely no protection under UK law. It could also undercut rates for UK lorry drivers. So the relaxing of the rules won’t be a temporary solution, in fact it could end up creating even more difficulties for the industry.”

Live in cabs

During this period the driver can operate under a reduced weekly rest period so they can legally live in their lorry for the entire period that they are in the UK and still comply with driving regulations.

The drivers will not be governed by UK employment laws so they could be paid below the national minimum wage while working in the country.

Safety concerns

Unite is alarmed about driver and road safety for the following reasons:

  • The lorries operating in this manner do not have to comply with the same licensing requirements and standards prior to entering the UK.
  • There is no official public record of which companies are taking advantage of the cabotage rules so there is no independent monitoring.
  • There will be no checks on the road worthiness of the lorries being used before they enter the UK.
  • The only way that drivers can be checked on whether they are complying with the regulations on drivers’ hours is through spot checks which are rare.

Dangerous game

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “The government is playing a dangerous game. Lorry drivers from throughout the world can now be forced to work in the UK with no effective checks on whether their vehicles are safe or if they are obeying driving regulations. The government’s actions are also risking the safety of all road users.”


During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.