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Unions Threaten to Strike Over UK Plans to 'Undercut' Business by Easing Rules For EU Hauliers

© REUTERS / PETER CZIBORRALorries are seen at an HGV parking, at Cobham services on the M25 motorway, Cobham, Britain, August 31, 2021
Lorries are seen at an HGV parking, at Cobham services on the M25 motorway, Cobham, Britain, August 31, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.10.2021
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Prompted by concerns about deliveries of food, fuel, etc. in the run-up to Christmas, the UK government has addressed the shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, triggered by a combination of factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit red tape, among others, by introducing temporary visas for 5,000 lorry drivers to work in the country.
Amid log-jammed ports and increasingly empty shop shelves amid panic buying, the UK government is facing a new crisis as trade union bosses are threatening ministers with mass walkouts over plans to lure more foreign HGV drivers into the country, reported The Times.
Union leaders have been “appalled” by a decision to extend so-called “cabotage” rules to allow overseas drivers to make “unlimited journeys” in two-week blocks at “low rates”.
The proposals, set out in a consultation launched on 14 October, were aimed at warding off shortages triggered by a shortfall of HGV drivers. Current rules limit non-UK-based companies to making a maximum of two trips in the UK within a week. Furthermore, temporary visas were introduced for 5,000 lorry drivers to work in the UK.
The National union Unite is said to be preparing a possible strike for UK HGV drivers, who have slammed the government’s proposed move as risking British businesses being “undercut” by cheaper foreign companies.
Unite's new leader Sharon Graham added that the treatment of UK drivers was “nothing short of a disgrace.”

“As the Prime Minister said recently, the answer to the driver shortage is better wages and improved conditions. This is what we demand. Now is the time for action not words. Britain’s drivers kept the nation moving during the worst crisis in living memory. It’s time for employers to pay workers a proper rate for the job. Enough is enough. Unite will be consulting its members before deciding on next steps, including exploring the options for industrial action. I will not allow workers to pay the price for the pandemic,” stated Graham.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, however, downplayed threats of strike, telling the BBC: “We're not in the seventies, where there was a big unionised block of lorry drivers.”
According to the Daily Mail, Unite's representation in the haulier industry is at under 15 percent of all drivers.

‘Outsourcing’ Haulage

While acknowledging that the measure will help deal with the crisis in lorry driver’s availability, it will “undermine the work being done to provide long-term solutions”, such as pay and conditions, stated the Road Haulage Association. Rod McKenzie, RHA managing director, said:
“This proposal undermines the good work done already on training, testing of drivers and the improved pay and conditions we have started to see for drivers.”
RHA warned that the proposal “outsources the whole haulage activity – tax, safety regulation, national insurance obligations are all controlled outside the UK when cabotage is unfettered in the way proposed by Government.” McKenzie added:
“It is a shame that the UK government chosen not to proceed in a timely way on these measures and instead decided to offshore UK haulage work to unaccountable operators from outside the UK”.
If approved, the plans, according to Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, would come into force before the end of the year and last for six months.

Supply Chain Crisis

The news comes as people in the UK were facing concerns that supplies of toys, electrical goods and other products will be disrupted by the bottlenecks at UK ports, like Felixstowe, which handles more than a third (36%) of UK container freight.
Retail leaders were cited as warning that a shortfall of more than 100,000 qualified lorry drivers in the UK, due to a combination of Covid, Brexit and other factors, impacted the ability to carry loads from docks around the coast.
© AFP 2021 / BEN STANSALLContainer ship 'CSCL Atlantic Ocean' is docked at the Port of Felixstowe, east of London on March 4, 2021
Container ship 'CSCL Atlantic Ocean' is docked at the Port of Felixstowe, east of London on March 4, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.10.2021
Container ship 'CSCL Atlantic Ocean' is docked at the Port of Felixstowe, east of London on March 4, 2021
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Port Association was cited as saying:
“The lack of haulage isn't stopping ports from doing things, it's just slowing things down at the moment.We're now also seeing a bit of an impact in the bulk sector. It's not a major problem at the moment, but it could be, so we're supporting some of the moves government are making to make it easier for people to come in an drive.”
To add to the grim forecasts, the British Retail Consortium said there are “clear signs” the current plethora of problems was “starting to filter through to consumer prices”.
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