Road Transport Forum News

 
Protection likely for dependent contractors

Protection likely for dependent contractors

Road Transport Forum News

 March 2019    RTF News

Unless you were purposely ignoring the news over the summer holiday period, which can be a pretty sensible thing to do, you will be aware of some negative publicity that came the road transport industry's way in relation to a piece of research into the health and wellbeing of truck drivers.

The AUT research (which formed the basis of a PhD thesis) and the media interest that it generated focused heavily on drivers' working conditions, unreasonable expectations placed on some drivers resulting in breaches of the worktime rules and high levels of stress and fatigue.

The research and subsequent media coverage highlighted the absolute worst examples of driver exploitation, which was unfortunate for the majority of operators and owner/drivers out there who fully comply with the rules and take health and wellbeing seriously.

"For those operators it is extremely unfair that their reputations are also tarnished by the actions of some unscrupulous rogues in our industry," says RTF chief executive Nick Leggett.

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Unless you were purposely ignoring the news over the summer holiday period, which can be a pretty sensible thing to do, you will be aware of some negative publicity that came the road transport industry's way in relation to a piece of research into the health and wellbeing of truck drivers.
The AUT research (which formed the basis of a PhD thesis) and the media interest that it generated focused heavily on drivers' working conditions, unreasonable expectations placed on some drivers resulting in breaches of the worktime rules and high levels of stress and fatigue.
The research and subsequent media coverage highlighted the absolute worst examples of driver exploitation, which was unfortunate for the majority of operators and owner/drivers out there who fully comply with the rules and take health and wellbeing seriously.
"For those operators it is extremely unfair that their reputations are also tarnished by the actions of some unscrupulous rogues in our industry," says RTF chief executive Nick Leggett.
"Nevertheless, the findings of the research cannot and should not be ignored. You can be assured that the Road Transport Forum and our constituent associations certainly take the issue of driver welfare seriously.
"No matter what the situation is and what the demands of the freight task are there's no excuse for non-compliance with the worktime rules, especially when we know that fatigue is a cause of so many serious accidents on our roads."
Thirteen-hour days and 70-hour weeks are extremely generous in an international context, says Leggett: "Very few countries in the world have longer worktime hours, and quite frankly there are very few other industries in this country where such long hours would be acceptable.
"RTF has always seen these hours as an absolute maximum. To hear that drivers are carrying around multiple logbooks to cheat the system and that many of the breaches are never picked up is very disappointing.
"Until we stamp out these practices, we will never be competitive in the labour market and will forever be fighting a rearguard action on issues of safety," says Leggett.
"Also, why would 18-year-olds – with all the employment choices that the modern economy has to offer – want to work such long hours and expose themselves to chronic fatigue and all the safety implications that come with that?"
He points out that the PhD research focuses quite heavily on the plight of a number of contractors and owner/drivers: "These people are, for all intents and purposes, bound to the company they contract to but exist without the legal protections afforded to employees.
"While, for many contractors, this situation works well and provides them a degree of autonomy and flexibility, it is undeniable that there is exploitation happening in some instances and people are having to break the rules just to stay afloat.
"With significant capital costs to bear, particularly the purchase of a vehicle, as well as the expenses associated with driving for a specific company, some contractors are put under significant pressure to work beyond what is reasonable or even legal and do whatever it takes to keep the company happy.
"Employment law commentators expect that it's likely that the current UK model, where there are three categories of workers, will be adopted and the Government will look to create a middle ground between the current employee and independent contractor categories, known as dependent contractors. They will receive some of the same rights and entitlements as employees, to reflect the reality that their livelihood is tied exclusively to the company that they contract to."
Leggett believes that "none of this should come out of the blue for road transport operators – as Labour and the Greens proposed reform in this area during their 2017 election campaigns.
"Labour Party policy described dependent contractors as 'workers who are effectively under the control of an employer, but who do not receive the legal protections that are currently provided to employees under the law.' "
He suggests that "the way that work is evolving in the 21st Century probably demands an update of workers' rights and obligations.
"Present legislation only caters for two categories of worker, which means that so many people are inappropriately categorised and do not receive the protections that their job deserves.
"RTF will wait and see what the Government comes up with as it is important that any changes address the issues that actually exist and do not overreach into areas where the Government has no business interfering."


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