Logistics UK and the RHA have reacted with dismay at the announcement of the continued relaxation of drivers’ hours legislation until 8 August 2021, which governs the length of time which HGV drivers are legally expected to work.
As James Firth, the Logistic UK’s Head of Road Freight Regulation Policy explains, the announcement will heap more pressure on drivers who are already stretched to the limit to deliver for UK PLC.
“Government has ignored the industry in deciding to relax these road safety laws,” he explains, “and it will be the hard-pressed HGV drivers on our roads who have to carry the burden. Throughout the pandemic, the UK’s professional drivers have kept our shops, homes and businesses supplied with everything needed to keep the economy going, but the current workforce cannot be expected to fill the gaps created by the current skills shortage. The road freight industry vehemently opposed the extension of these vital road safety laws, yet the government has ignored the will of those who will be most affected by the changes.
“The logistics sector has been experiencing a significant shortage of drivers for a number of years, but this situation has been exacerbated by factors including the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, which has seen many EU workers return to their home countries. The industry needs a longer-term solution to the recruitment of drivers – including temporary visas for EU workers to cover the gaps while new recruits can be trained, and interest free loans for those wishing to enter the market – not a stop-gap measure that will heap more pressure on existing workers.
“The relaxation of drivers hours should only be used in an emergency situation, when a foreseeable end date can be identified – or is the government suggesting that the current shortage of drivers will be resolved by 8 August?”
Before the pandemic and Brexit, logistics was already experiencing a shortage of around 76,000 drivers, and Logistics UK now estimates the shortfall to be approximately 90,000 workers. As Mr Firth continues, the industry is certain that an extension of drivers’ hours will not have the required impact and could be detrimental to the existing workforce.
“Existing drivers have been working flat out since the start of the pandemic, and this could be the final straw for many of them. Instead of trying to paper over the gaps, government should be working with industry to produce a plan to support moving drivers through the current bottleneck of HGV driving tests and support potential new entrants to the industry with the expensive process of acquiring a professional driving licence.
“Industry met with Transport and Work & Pensions ministers to discuss the situation on 16 June but no plan has been forthcoming to date – extending working hours is untenable and not the solution to the wider issue. Logistics businesses need and deserve answers, not wallpapering over the problem!”
And the Road Haulage Association said the move wouldn’t make any difference, saying there is a shortfall of about 60,000 lorry drivers and said the relaxation on driving hour limits was a “sticking plaster”.
It is believed around 30,000 HGV driving tests did not take place last year because of the Covid pandemic. “Relaxing drivers’ hours won’t make any material difference – and fails to address the underlying issues, which require a package of measures to fix,” the RHA said.