Unite, the UK’s leading union, which represents tens of thousands of HGV drivers, has reacted with dismay to the news that the government is intent on further relaxing regulations governing how long lorry drivers can work.

Snap consultation

The government is currently undertaking a snap consultation exercise on extending the relaxation on the driving regulations from this Sunday (9 January) for a further four weeks until 6 February, as a result of the omicron variant and an increase in sickness absence.

The government has continually been operating a relaxation of the driving hour regulations since July last year, due to a chronic shortage of drivers and the effect of the pandemic. Since the Covid pandemic began in March 2020, the regulations have been relaxed for the majority of the time.

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 is entirely dedicated to defending the jobs, pay and conditions of our members and we will fully support any member who believes that working excessive hours is damaging their health or placing themselves or others in danger.”

FOI request

Unite has discovered via a Freedom of Information request that the government has failed to undertake an impact assessment on the effect of the extended hours on drivers’ health and road users safety, as it is a ‘temporary measure’.

The FOI reply confirmed: “An impact assessment is not required for regulations that have effect for less than 12 months. None of the relaxations to the lorry drivers’ hours regulations made since March 2020 has been for more than 12 months in duration and so no impact assessments have been done.”

Little uptake

When Unite gave evidence to the transport select committee in November last year, the union revealed that the relaxation of driver hours was becoming increasingly ineffective, with just 154 companies having applied (let alone implemented) the latest relaxation, a tiny percentage compared to the thousands of operators in the sector.

Under the government’s relaxation, 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.

Dangerous and ineffective

Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said: “Constantly relaxing driving regulations is both dangerous and increasingly ineffective.

 “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.”

Increasing fatigue

Unite has strongly argued that the extended driving hours is increasing the levels of fatigue experienced by drivers and the cumulative effect of this could have potentially tragic consequences.

It is estimated that 600 drivers leave the industry every week and the further relaxation on driving hours is going to make a bad situation even worse.


Notes to editors:

 Longer lorry driver hours dangerous and fail to address labour shortages, warns Unite

 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 the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.