A no deal Brexit will result in exhausted lorry drivers, posing a danger to themselves and other road users, unless the government responds to concerns, Unite the union has warned.
Unite, which represents 50,000 HGV drivers, says lorry drivers will be at the frontline in coping with the disruption predicted on Britain’s roads if the UK leaves without a deal with the European Union. Unite is also concerned that the government could relax or suspend regulations based on EU law which govern driving time for lorry drivers.
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 under EU rules. Compared to this, GB domestic law allows for 10 hour days every day of the week and only 30 minute breaks in between stretches of driving for 5 and a half hours (compared with 45 minutes and 4 and a half hour stretches).
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.
"Unite will totally oppose any relaxation in driving regulations. This would result in exhausted drivers, with potentially lethal consequences for road users.”
HGVs caused 168 deaths on Britain’s roads in 2017, the latest figures available from the department for Transport.
The concerns come after Loughborough university revealed 36 per cent of London bus drivers had had a ‘close call’ due to fatigue in the past 12 months and one in six drivers had reported falling asleep at the wheel. The report, published 29 August, said that consecutive long shifts and a reluctance among drivers to report fatigue related near misses for fear of disciplinary action is increasing risk on the roads.
The European Transport Workers Federation spoke in support of Unite, in a statement saying: “UK government errors in managing Brexit must not be passed over to professional drivers, an underpaid, fatigued category of workers who constantly have to battle health issues generated by the poor rest and working conditions.”
“Limits imposed to driving time are the only means – although hugely insufficient – to ensure some sort of safety on European roads. We are ready to take action to ensure that UK drivers do not pay the Brexit bill with their own health and lives!”
According to government ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ files, leaked last month to the Sunday Times, there will be at least a three-month “meltdown” at ports in the event of no deal. The Road Haulage Association commented: “There will be very substantial queues at the border.”
European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert all EU employment law as it stands before Brexit into UK law in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
However, a no deal Brexit could make it harder for workers to enforce their rights which could also be stripped back or removed in future.
Nicola Smith, head of equality and strategy at the TUC said: “The Prime Minister himself has repeatedly expressed his opposition to working time protections and his newly-promoted colleagues share his de-regulated, free-market vision for the future.
“A no deal Brexit would give them a free rein to strip working people of the rights and protections that we need and deserve.”
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