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by Matt Trinder, parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
UNITE warned of possible strike action over the “disgraceful” treatment of HGV drivers today after Tory ministers unveiled plans to allow European drivers to make unlimited deliveries in Britain.
In response to the ongoing supply chain crisis, exacerbated by a shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps launched a consultation on proposals to temporarily change so-called “cabotage” rules on Thursday.
The procedures govern how many trips foreign transport firms can make within another country.
Currently, hauliers from the European Union can only pick up and drop off goods in Britain twice in a seven-day period, but the proposals would allow them to make an unlimited number of deliveries in a two-week period.
If approved, the plans, which would be equivalent to adding thousands of extra HGV drivers to the road, Mr Shapps claimed, would come into force before the end of the year and last for six months.
The industry has reacted with fury, with the Road Haulage Association’s Bob McKenzie insisting: “We don’t want cabotage to sabotage our industry.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I spoke to some of our members last night, they were appalled.
“Ridiculous, pathetic, gobsmacked were some of their more broadcast-able comments.”
The government’s move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told delegates at this month’s Tory Party conference that he wanted a high-wage, high-skill economy that did not rely on “pulling the lever marked ‘uncontrolled immigration’.”
Mr McKenzie added: “This is about taking work from British operators and drivers and giving it to Europeans who don’t pay tax here.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said that the treatment of drivers across the board “has been nothing short of a disgrace.
She said: “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.”
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