Heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers have called a day of action for next Monday. Long hours, low pay, loss of pensions and terrible working conditions have led to dockside backlogs, queues for fuel, supermarket shortages and rising prices.
The Unite union backed the grassroots campaign, #TruckedOff, at its conference in Liverpool last week.
The campaign is encouraging drivers to take their statutory rest break at 11am next Monday. The Take a Break initiative falls as the Tories are expected to yet again increase the daily hours drivers can be on the road.
Unite’s chair and former HGV driver Tony Woodhouse said, “HGV drivers are sick and tired of poor pay, no pensions and longer working hours.
“Truck stops in this country are a disgrace and the fantasy salaries being reported are a myth.”
Woodhouse is “urging” drivers to park up at 11am on on Monday. “By taking their legal break, they will highlight that nothing is being done to address the dreadful employment conditions in a sector that's at the heart of our economy.
“Unite will not stop until we have fixed this broken industry."
Brexit and Covid have exacerbated the current situation, but drivers’ conditions have been deteriorating for years.
Because of low pay, Britain is at least 100,000 drivers short with no plan to reduce this figure. There are more qualified drivers in Britain than the sector needs, yet these qualified drivers have left the industry.
Davy McCord, HGV driver and Unite shop steward, called on bosses to sign up to an agreement on minimum standards across the whole industry. “Sector bargaining is the norm right across the economy, from the NHS to local government to construction,” he said.
“HGV and professional driving in this country badly and urgently need to embrace this model too.
“Only with a firm floor to prevent pay, pensions and conditions being under persistent attack can we bring some order to the chaos in this sector.”
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, convened a cross-industry meeting of drivers recently. It brought together drives from the food, warehousing and fuel sectors to discuss a long-term plan to drive up pay and conditions.
Unite is calling for sectoral collective bargaining—when bosses and unions negotiate on an industry-wide basis, rather than agreements at individual firms.
It says, “Today’s model is broken. It can do little or nothing to influence poor standards among many thousands of small operators. Competition between freight customers—including the major supermarkets—as well as competition between haulage contractors has again pushed wages and conditions down.
“Outsourcing and agency working have further contributed to a precarious employment environment.”
But that should not hold back any group of workers from blazing a trail that others can follow. There's a danger that sectoral agreements can prioritise union officials securing bargaining rights rather than workers fighting to win improvements.
A nationwide campaign is crucial to winning high pay and conditions for all workers in the sector. And with labour shortages, now is the perfect time for hard-hitting strikes.