Unite which represents over 50,000 lorry drivers has never been contacted by the government about planning for a no deal Brexit, despite lorry drivers being in the frontline of coping with the disruption that a no deal Brexit will create.
As a result Unite’s national officer for road transport Adrian Jones has written to the new transport secretary Grant Shapps and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove seeking an urgent meeting to discuss Brexit related matters.
Of particular concern for Unite is the prospect that the government could relax or suspend the regulations which govern driving time for lorry drivers. Currently HGV drivers are restricted to driving for nine hours a day (extended to 10 hours twice a week) and a total of 56 hours driving a week, however their actual working week can be far longer when taking into account other duties. There are also strict rules on rest periods between shifts.
A highly confidential survey of over 4,000 HGV drivers, undertaken by Unite last year, found that fatigue and tiredness were already massive issues for drivers. The survey found that 29 per cent of drivers had fallen asleep at the wheel. For many drivers this did not simply mean that they had momentarily closed their eyes but they could not remember passing junctions or their head had hit the steering wheel.
Exhausted drivers are a danger to themselves and other road users. In 2017 (the latest available figures) there were a total of 267 deaths involving HGV including 21 drivers.
As well as the potential relaxation of driving hours, Unite is also concerned that proper welfare facilities will be provided in places such as Kent and other areas which are expected to suffer from widespread disruption in the event of a no deal Brexit and whether provision will be made for drivers to take rest breaks away from their lorries, during major delays.
Although the government has met employer’s representatives it has become apparent through the Operation Yellowhammer leaks that they were not given the full information and what they have been told cannot be passed to Unite, as they had been forced to sign Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). In most cases the government only lifted the NDAs which acted as a gag on information this week (Wednesday 21 August).
Unite national officer for road transport Adrian Jones said: “We are just weeks away from a no deal Brexit and yet the government has not thought it necessary to speak to the key group of workers who will keep the UK running. The problems associated with a no deal Brexit will not just be confined to Kent, it will create delays throughout the entire lorry and logistics network in the UK. Unite will totally oppose any relaxation in driving regulations. This would result in exhausted drivers, with potentially lethal consequences for road users. In a sensible world the government would rule out a disastrous no deal Brexit. Failing that Grant Shapps and or Michael Gove need to urgently meet with Unite explain what plans are in store for drivers and rule out any relaxation in the driving regulations. The bottom line is that workers have a legal right to not work if they believe they would be placed in danger. The government must remember that when planning for a no deal.”