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Union Unite has slammed government plans to further extend the relaxation of regulations governing how long lorry drivers can work.

The union is calling on the government to scrap the new proposal and tackle the long hours, irregular shifts and lack of parking facilities which it argues have created the lorry driver shortage.

The call follows the government’s launch of a snap consultation exercise on extending the relaxation on the driving regulations from this Sunday (9 January) for a further four weeks until 6 February, as a result of the Omicron variant and an increase in sickness absence.

The relaxation of the rules has been operating since July last year, due to a chronic shortage of drivers and the effect of the pandemic.

Under the government’s relaxation, drivers can drive for up to 11 hours a day, compared to the normal maximum of 10 hours, and a total of 99 hours a fortnight from a previous 90 hours, with rest periods also reduced.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The government is increasingly resembling a one trick pony when it comes to dealing with lorry driver shortages and is intent on pursuing a policy which has no regard for the health of drivers and the safety of road users.

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“Rather than constantly relaxing driving regulations, the government needs to finally begin to address the issues of long hours, excessive and irregular shift patterns and the lack of welfare and parking facilities that has created the driver shortage crisis in the first place.

“Unite is entirely dedicated to defending the jobs, pay and conditions of our members and we will fully support any member who believes that working excessive hours is damaging their health or placing themselves or others in danger.”

Unite revealed this week that it has discovered via a Freedom of Information request that the government has failed to undertake an impact assessment on the effect of the extended hours on drivers’ health and road users safety, on the grounds that it is a “temporary measure.”

Unite argues that the scheme has garnered scant support in the industry with just 154 companies applying, out of tens of thousands of operators. It warns that longer hours increase driver fatigue endangering both drivers and the travelling public.

Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said: “Constantly relaxing driving regulations is both dangerous and increasingly ineffective.

“Hauliers are increasingly not applying to utilise the relaxation on driving hours, as drivers are exhausted, they realise it is not safe and their workers will leave if it is implemented.

“The government’s failure to undertake an impact assessment on relaxing the driver regulations, while pretending it is a temporary measure, is a dereliction of leadership and demonstrates that it is pretending that forcing workers to drive for longer is risk free.”