The government’s plan to relax rules around lorry drivers’ working hours to make up for shortages has been branded “unsafe”.
It comes as transport minister Grant Shapps announced a “temporary extension” of safety limits to make up for the disruption in the food supply.
Labour labelled the move as “political point-scoring” off the back of Brexit.
The industry, previously dominated by Eastern European workers, is now suffering from a severe shortage of qualified heavy good vehicle (HGV) drivers because of new immigration rules and Covid.
In a statement released yesterday, Shapps said: “We’re aware of a shortage of HGV drivers, so I’m announcing a temporary extension of drivers’ hours rules from Monday 12 July, giving flexibility to drivers and operators to make slightly longer journeys.
“We’ve ramped up the number of driving tests available and will consider other measures.”
Translation of @grantshapps tweet.— Andrew Lewin (@Alewin7) July 7, 2021
There is a shortage of HGV drivers because many EU citizens have left the UK since Brexit.
The govt were warned, but did not act.
Out of desperation they’re now ditching safety laws RE how long HGV drivers can stay on the road without a break. https://t.co/cJpBAqYxtl
Oh great so if #Covid19UK doesn’t get you, a tired lorry driver falling asleep at the wheel will.— Liz Webster 🔶 (@LizWebsterLD) July 7, 2021
Labour County Councillor Alexandra Bulat, who has campaigned heavily for EU citizens’ rights since Brexit, said there are “good reasons” why driving hours limits existed in the first place.
“Drivers need to be well-rested for their safety as well as the safety of all road users,” she told The London Economic.
She added: “Instead of pressuring drivers to drive in unsafe conditions, we should think about why these shortages exist.
“Many EU migrant drivers left the UK during the pandemic and the new immigration system will make it difficult to recruit migrant drivers who have been key to this part of the economy.
“We should not compromise the safety of road users to score political points on immigration.”
The London Economic has contacted the Department for Transport for comment.
Premier Foods, one of the biggest food companies in the UK called on the government last week to use the army to help with the distribution of goods.
The move comes as industry leaders have warned of a summer of shortages for supermarket shelves.
But a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said it had not received a formal request to provide support. A government spokesperson later added there are no plans to use the military “in this scenario”.
Lorry drivers fight over Kent toilets
Despite the current shortages in lorry drivers, it emerged last week that those in Kent are already forced to fight over toilets.
Unite the union said truckers have been involved in fights because the toilet facilities and parking spaces have become “chronically overcrowded”, according to the BBC.
One person said: “I don’t remember fighting to take a dump being on the side of the Leave Campaign Bus yet here we are.”
Meanwhile, William Oliver said Brexit is “quite literally a shitshow”, whilst Jon Newton labelled the fighting between drivers as “The Battle of Portaloo”.