Empty supermarket shelves are the picture of summer 2021. According to the Road Haulage Association, we're short of 100,000 HGV drivers, but the truth is, the sector is an unappealing prospect for workers. Financial inducements to lure drivers won't address the problems at the heart of the industry. The government doesn't help when its answer is to meddle with driver hours, further exhausting the existing pool.
As Unite leader, I will pursue a long-term solution to bring stability to the industry based on lifting pay, addressing disruptive, high-pressure hours and improving the shocking facilities - and lack of facilities - for drivers on the road. I'll give our reps all the tools and support they need to deliver on the Unite drivers’ manifesto. It is a comprehensive document which calls for changes not just to pay and conditions, but to driver accreditation with costs foisted onto the workforce, and parking regulations which make trying to rest for the night after a long day on the road a nightmare. I'll also ensure that lorry drivers know that Unite, with me as leader, has absolutely got their back.
Our excellent officers and reps win pay rises like the one recently secured at a major dairy employer who wanted to reduce guaranteed hours and paid rest breaks. Little wonder, then, that drivers look at the industry and say 'no thanks'. But our union stood strong, winning a hefty weekly pay lift, protecting those paid rest breaks and securing guaranteed weekly hours. I know all too well the challenges workers in this sector face because I represented them as a union officer. I see many of the changes introduced in the sector, such as insecure working, spreading into other areas of the economy. Changing this, delivering decent jobs with dignity and respect for workers is at the heart of my programme to transform Unite.
Take the green manufacturing revolution. Unite members are at the forefront of developing alternative fuel engines, producing hydrogen and electric alternatives to make the traffic on our roads kinder to the planet. I am battling government now to do more to support and deliver the road infrastructure needed to deliver on this important technology - to make it a real prospect for drivers.
The investment Unite secured at Nissan recently is the best of Unite in action - a unified effort from the shopfloor to the minister's office to bring the cash that will provide 7,000 new jobs and take us a little bit further forward in tackling the climate crisis.
My pledge is to transform our union to put members first. I'll freeze subscriptions for two years while introducing a “one call, that's all” system to connect members with their union when they need it. Members know I will deliver. When Covid hit, I worked night and day to deliver the furlough scheme which kept a wage coming in for 11 million people.
Jobs, pay, dignity and security for working people – as Unite leader, these will be my priorities.
Steve Turner is Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing and a candidate in the union’s general secretary election. Voting ends on 23 August.
(This article first appeared in Motor Transport on 30th July 2021, link to article here)