The logistics industry has reacted with anger to government plans to ease the HGV driver shortage with changes to cabotage rules.
Cabotage rules limit the number of times foreign drivers can pick up and drop goods in the UK. Under the proposals the rules will be relaxed for six months so an unlimited number of pick-ups and drops can be made in a 14-day period, compared to two currently.
The move comes amid warnings of shortages at Christmas due to the supply chain crisis gripping the country.
Rob McKenzie, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, branded the plan “ridiculous” and “pathetic”, warning it would undercut UK logistics operators and wages by attracting low-cost foreign hauliers.
“We don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry,” he said.
Meanwhile, a survey has found 91% of HGV drivers in the UK feel undervalued.
McKenzie said: “I spoke to some of our members last night; they were appalled. Ridiculous, pathetic, gobsmacked were some of their more broadcastable comments,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“The government has been talking about a high-wage, high-skill economy, and not ‘pulling the lever marked uncontrolled immigration’, and to them this is exactly what it looks like: allowing overseas haulage companies and drivers to come over for perhaps up to six months on a fortnightly basis to do unlimited work at low rates, undercutting UK hauliers who are facing an acute driver shortage, rising costs, staff wages.
“This is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don’t pay tax here and pay peanuts to their drivers.”
If approved after a week-long consultation, the plans would come into force before the end of the year.
Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, told Supply Management it should be a “short-term measure” to sustain the UK’s haulage industry.
“While the government’s cabotage proposals may help to mitigate the impact the shortage of HGV drivers is having on the UK economy, the measures must be time-limited to ensure this competition from EU businesses has a minimal impact on British haulage companies,” she said.
“This must be a short-term measure to support the economy while British drivers are recruited, trained and tested.”
A study by training firm Pertemps Driving Division (PDD) found 69% of drivers “strongly agreed” the general public does not respect the work of logistics drivers.
It found experienced truckers were more likely to be disillusioned with their roles. Of those that felt undervalued, 74% had worked in the industry for over 20 years and 75% of those felt it was unlikely they would still be driving in three years’ time.
The survey of 2,500 drivers also found 69% of drivers felt working conditions were inadequate.
Samantha Leleu, general manager at PDD, said: “There is a known driver shortage, and the noise has mostly been about attracting new talent to the sector – but what about those experienced drivers who have just had enough of difficult working conditions, and disrespect from customers and the public? They deserve better and it is the least we, as employers, can do to try and help as the UK seeks to address a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers.”
She said while pay may have increased, some drivers were still leaving the industry after being made to feel like a “nuisance” while making deliveries.
“We, the great British public, have to get a handle on this to keep these good people in the sector as everything we touch has been delivered on the back of a lorry, while we get the talent pipeline moving again for those looking to train to be lorry drivers.”
The shortfall of HGV drivers – estimated at 70,000-100,000 – has led to shortages of food and fuel across the country, and also created bottlenecks at the UK’s biggest port Felixstowe.
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