A lorry-drivers’ union has accused the government of playing “Russian roulette” with road safety after it emerged that no records are being kept of foreign trucks invited in to beat the HGV shortage.
Unite said ministers “panicked” last October in the face of empty supermarket shelves resulting from the shortage of drivers caused by the combined impact of Covid, Brexit and under-recruitment of homegrown staff.
A relaxation of “cabotage” rules allowed non-UK drivers to work unlimited hours and make unrestricted numbers of deliveries within a 14-day period.
But the Department for Transport (DFT) has now admitted that it is not monitoring how many foreign lorries are entering the UK or whether they are leaving within the two-week deadline.
In response to a freedom of information request from Unite for details of the number of companies taking advantage of the cabotage policy, which countries the trucks come from, and how many over-stay, the DFT said only: “There is no mechanism or register available from which cabotage data could be derived as it will be commercial data held by operators based outside the UK.”
The only information available on cabotage rates was compiled by the EU’s Eurostat statistical office – despite the UK having left the EU nearly two years ago – and the most up-to-date figures date back to 2019, the union was told.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the government’s approach had created “an accident waiting to happen”, as foreign drivers are required to work exhausting long hours and sleep in their cabs for extended periods.
“This is sheer incompetence by the government, which is playing Russian roulette with British road users,” said Ms Graham. “It introduced this knee-jerk reaction to the lorry driver crisis last year. Now they tell us they don’t know how many foreign lorry drivers have come, how many hours they work when they are here and if they go home after the 14-day working period.
“It’s literally an accident waiting to happen, based on the illegal super-exploitation of these drivers.
“Unite is dedicated to protecting the jobs, pay and conditions of its members. If it receives any evidence that a failure to abide by the UK’s employment laws, road safety rules or driving regulations is impacting on the jobs and conditions of our lorry-driver members, then we will take action to stop that.”
Unite said that the failure to keep records of foreign trucks meant that abuses of the scheme can only be detected by on-the-spot inspections.
But earlier freedom of information requests last month revealed a 39 per cent decline in the number of these checks on lorries since 2016/17.
The union’s road haulage officer Adrian Jones said that, on average, a truck will drive the equivalent of three and a half times round the world before facing an inspection.
“Not only is the government clueless about how many foreign lorries are currently on UK roads, but the only on-the-spot inspections to ensure these vehicles are roadworthy and driving regulations are being observed are as rare as hens’ teeth,” said Mr Jones.
“Rather than allowing foreign lorries unlimited access to the UK to tackle driver shortages, the government should be tackling the root causes of the driver crisis – low pay, long hours and the lack of decent parking and welfare facilities for drivers.”
A DFT spokesperson said: “The temporary, additional cabotage rules are one of 32 measures taken which are working to alleviate the effects of the global lorry driver shortage in the UK.
“The department is monitoring the overall uptake of the additional cabotage rules and early indications are that they have been successful in assisting the resilience of supply chains, including providing key connections to ports.”
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