Government slammed for extending HGV drivers’ hours as crisis hits supermarket shelves

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The government has extended the legal limit to the number of hours heavy goods vehicles (HGV) drivers can work as the crisis begins to impact supermarket shelves.

Sainsbury’s warned yesterday that it was facing shortages of strawberries, salad and other fresh produce amid an increasingly critical shortage of HGV drivers in the UK.

Earlier this week online grocer Ocado also said it had begun lending staff to its suppliers who have been hit by the shortage.

A combination of sharp declines in migrant labour following Brexit and a lack of driver testing due to the pandemic have led to a shortage of around 100,000 drivers, piling pressure on an already stretched supply chain following a year of record sales for grocers.

In response, the government has announced plans to temporarily extend the number of hours HGV drivers are legally allowed to work.

READ MORE: Bring in the army to avoid “unimaginable” collapse of supermarket supply chains food giants warn

Parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department of Transport Baroness Charlotte Vere tweeted yesterday: “We’re temporarily extending drivers’ hours rules from Mon 12 July to allow HGV drivers to make slightly longer journeys where necessary, as we’re aware of a current shortage of drivers.

“Driver safety must not be compromised & operators must notify DfT if this relaxation is used.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps added that the UK had also “ramped up the number of driving tests available and will consider other measures”.

However, the measures have been widely criticised as inadequate to tackle the crisis, and criticised for potentially compromising driver safety.

Unite union’s national officer Adrian Jones said: “Asking an already exhausted workforce to work even longer is likely to make an already difficult situation worse.

“Driving regulations are highly complex and to announce a relaxation on Twitter without any proper detail has simply created more confusion and uncertainty across the sector.

“The Government should not be announcing a relaxation in driving hours, which are critical to ensure the safety of all road users, without also ensuring that the relevant monitoring and enforcement of the revised rules are in place.

“Unite has been provided with no details of whether monitoring and enforcement of the revised regulations has even been considered.”

A government spokesperson reiterated its previous stance that while it has already “taken action” to tackle the crisis, most solutions “are likely to be driven by the industry”.

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