There is already a shortage of HGV drivers, and they are currently playing a crucial role in maintaining the supply of food and medicines.
As part of the conditions of holding an HGV licence, drivers are required to undergo regular medicals to ensure they are fit to drive. Drivers are required to undergo an initial medical and after the age 45 to have one every five years until the age of 65 when they are renewed annually without an upper age limit. Shorter licences may be issued for medical reasons.
The government is rightly insisting that doctors do not undertake private medicals during the crisis.
Unite has raised the matter directly with the government but the Department for Transport has not responded positively. Unite is now directly appealing to the secretary of state Grant Shapps to intervene, to prevent hundreds if not thousands of drivers being unable to battle the coronavirus and keep supplies moving.
Valid safety reasons
For very valid safety reasons Unite has long championed the absolute requirement that drivers have regular medicals but due to the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus crisis, it believes that a short relaxation is required as a temporary and short-term measure.
Some drivers have already been forced off the road due to not being able to obtain a medical and are potentially facing months without pay. With many drivers in the older age groups the need to resolve this matter is especially urgent.
Sensible decision needed
Unite national officer for road haulage Adrian Jones said: “The government needs to take a sensible decision that will allow drivers to continue to work without a current medical certificate.
“Grant Shapps needs to directly intervene to ensure that potentially thousands of lorry drivers are not marooned at home without pay, when they could be helping the fight against coronavirus.
“At a time when we urgently need qualified drivers it would be wrong and deeply unfair to force experienced drivers off the road because the doctors who would normally perform the medicals are full focussed on fighting coronavirus.
“Any relaxation in the medical rules for drivers must be temporary and for a clearly specified limited time.
“A decision to relax the current rules needs to be backdated to ensure that workers already forced off the road can get back to work.
“If medicals are suspended then drivers and employers have to be responsible and ensure that if anyone is unwell or unfit they do not drive, to ensure road safety is not compromised.”
HGV drivers are also required to undertake periodic mandatory training as part of the Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) regime but this requirement was suspended yesterday (Tuesday 31 March) by the government between 1 March 2020 and 30 September 2020.