Crisis as lorry drivers shortage hits

HAULAGE companies at Felixstowe are facing a shortage of truck drivers – and the situation is set to get worse.European changes to working hours coming into force later this year will push up the industry's costs, mean 60,000 more drivers will be needed and put thousands of extra lorries on the roads.

HAULAGE companies at Felixstowe are facing a shortage of truck drivers – and the situation is set to get worse.

European changes to working hours coming into force later this year will push up the industry's costs, mean 60,000 more drivers will be needed and put thousands of extra lorries on the roads.

But Felixstowe haulage chief Ralph Morton says the industry is already 70,000 drivers short and many of the port town's companies are missing drivers.

"Recruiting drivers is a real problem at the moment for the industry," said Mr Morton, whose firm Ralph Morton Transport is based on the outskirts of Felixstowe port.

"No-one wants to do the job any more. When you interview people and tell them they could be working 65 to 70 hours a week, away from home for five nights a week, working sometimes at 3am and other times at 8pm, driving through ice, fog, snow, and when you park up there is no decent showers or anything good to eat, all for £28,000 a year, they don't want to know.

"Lorry drivers are second-class citizens."

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Under the new Working Time Directive drivers can only do an average of 48 hours a week.

But Mr Morton was optimistic that this might benefit the industry, where currently haulage companies face great pressure from customers.

"We will have to say that we cannot carry on like we are at present and customers will have to understand that and pay more for transport services. Profit margins have not risen at all for ten years and if many companies had not become more efficient there would be a lot of problems," he said.

A report commissioned for the Road Haulage Association said "at least 60,600 additional drivers" will be needed when the EC directive comes into force – and 92,000 if demand for transport grows at two per cent.

The industry is facing a £3.8 billion rise in costs, and 12,000 extra trucks will be needed. It says the changes will be "catastrophic" for hauliers because profit margins are traditionally so small.

"Average working hours within the industry currently exceed the 48-hour limit imposed by the directive," said the report.

"Since no opt-out is available, haulage companies will be forced to employ additional drivers to cover the hours their existing drivers will no longer be permitted to work."

RHA spokesman Steve Williams said the association was studying the information and would be advising members what to do.

A number were already using drop-off sites around the country where loads could be delivered and then collected by another driver to be taken on the rest of their journey to cut hours on the road.

n What do you think? Write to Evening Star Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

WEBLINK: www.rha.net

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