Unite has warned that lorry drivers’ safety must not be put in jeopardy by the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The union’s warning came after reports from Westminster suggested the government was looking into suspending the regulations that govern the maximum number of hours a lorry driver can drive, in a bid to meet increased demand in the retail sector.
Supermarket shelves are beginning to empty due to the increased consumption driven by fears over the coronavirus and self-isolation, but that shouldn’t be a reason to put the health of lorry driver’s at risk according to Unite.
Unite’s 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.
The comments came after the government announced that it is extending the hours that supermarkets can receive deliveries so that they can replenish stocks that are in high demand.
The current rules mean that some deliveries are prohibited overnight so that the lorries do not disturb nearby residents, but the government has said it will temporarily relax the enforcement of those restrictions to provide greater flexibility to the retail sector. The government has also stated that the transport secretary Grant Shapps is standing by and ready to implement an extension on lorry drivers’ hours to help respond to emergency situations within the supply chain.
The new rules would help to relieve a shortage of available delivery drivers, but would still require drivers to have a 45-minute break after four and a half hours of driving to ensure they are adequately rested.