Union urges employers to adopt Drivers’ Charter

Paul Clarke outlines the details in Unite’s new Drivers’ Charter.

Introduction

Britain’s largest union has launched the Unite Drivers' Charter, claiming that some drivers of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are being forced to put themselves and the general public at risk by having to work more than 60 hours a week. This has been produced by the union's Hire and Reward sector, which plans to hold an annual conference where shop stewards will debate and agree on changes to the standards included in the Charter. The aim is to establish a realistic minimum level for the industry that can then gradually be improved upon.

Unite argues that drivers have been left behind by improvements in vehicles and technology, while terms and conditions in the industry have if anything worsened in recent years. That must change, it said.

While the union acknowledges that many drivers will enjoy terms and conditions well above those set out in the Charter, it wants to establish a baseline below which the industry should not fall. It seeks to move away from a culture where some employers see an average 48-hour week as the minimum time drivers should spend at work rather than a maximum compatible with their safety and health.

Minimum standards for all professional hire and reward drivers

"This Drivers’ Charter can be used when negotiating with employers to set minimum standards that are a baseline rather than a glass ceiling," Unite said. "Involve your officer if your employer resists these minimum standards.

“It is vital that Unite is made aware of employers that refuse to co-operate, but also where we have success above and beyond the items included."

So what does the union see as the basic minimum to be achieved? It sets out eight main areas for action, which can be summarised as follows:

Working time

With drivers working as many hours now as they were before 2005, when the law was changed, Unite argues that too many are not being given the protection promised by the Working Time Directive and subsequent regulations. Given that long hours on the road are dangerous for all road users, HGV drivers should not have to do 60-hour weeks trying to make up for low pay rates, the Charter says. It calls for all Hire and Reward drivers to be paid a minimum of £520 for a 48-hour week. A fair rate of pay is a right for all professionals, and that includes HGV drivers, the union concludes.

Sick pay and injury compensation

There should be proper payment for drivers when they are off sick to ensure that they are not forced back to work before they are fully fit. Furthermore, if they are injured at work through no fault of their own, employers should recognise the difficulty drivers will face and make sure they are paid appropriately. "The lorry cab is the driver’s workplace and any road accident that results in time off work is an accident at work not just another road statistic," Unite argues. It wants every employer in the sector to offer a minimum sick pay scheme of eight weeks on full pay. If a driver is injured in a no-fault accident, then there should be a minimum of six months full pay and six months half pay, the Charter states.

Health and safety

Proper safeguards should be in place for all professional drivers and all those involved in the transport/logistics industry, the Charter insists. It wants to see all workplaces having Unite Health and Safety Representatives.

Pensions

Unite points out that drivers across the whole of the industry have never enjoyed any proper pension provision, despite some of the largest companies in the world operating in the logistics and road transport sectors, and it is calling for a final salary pension scheme for all. "Why can’t there be an industry provision with all making a contribution for all professional drivers?" the Charter asks. Transport companies should provide a genuine occupational pension that provides "a good standard of living post retirement", it insists.

Proper on-the-road facilities

After many hours on the road, there is no option for the majority of professional drivers but to sleep in the cab of their vehicles after parking in areas, which can be unsafe both for them and their cargo. Other Member States in Europe are able to provide far better standards on the road for professional drivers, the Charter argues, so why should drivers in the UK accept less? It demands good facilities that are safe and secure, in line with facilities in mainland Europe, and also calls for toilet and washing facilities to be made available at all delivery/customer sites.

Professional vocational training

Unite welcomes professional qualifications and wants drivers to be offered high quality training, but calls for this to be fully funded by employers and to take place in normal working hours in order to ensure maximum take-up and assured quality. Employers should also ensure that all drivers they use, whether from the UK or based elsewhere in the European Union, have the full Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) and access to ongoing training.

Proper enforcement of all road regulations

The final part of the Charter calls for the fullest enforcement of all those regulations that apply to all road users. At the same time, it wants to see appropriately severe penalties given to those who breach the rules. "Being the most regulated group of workers in any industry," the union argues, "it’s right that those regulations apply, making our roads safe for us all to work and use. A failure to ensure consistent enforcement of both domestic and EU laws means that UK drivers are disadvantaged and potentially have their safety compromised."

Read all about it

If you would like to download the full text of the Charter, it can be found on the Unite website. You may find it being quoted in pay negotiations as Unite is urging its reps to include the specific items listed in the Charter in any claim. "You may not achieve every one but your employer will know that their competitors are facing the same claims," it points out. The union will be urging all haulage firms to sign up to the Charter in order, as it puts it, to halt the race to the bottom on Britain’s roads.