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The UK government has launched a one-week consultation on its proposal to relax cabotage restriction on freight HGV drivers, despite mounting opposition from the haulage industry.

Under the proposal, foreign drivers arriving in the country with a laden truck would be allowed to spend two weeks in the UK performing an unlimited number of domestic deliveries, also known as cabotage operations.

Currently, non-UK drivers are allowed to perform just two cabotage runs within a week after delivering a Europe-UK shipment.

The Department for Transport said the measure would likely come into force towards the end of the year and last for six months, “helping secure supply chains in the medium term, alongside the wider package of measures government has put in place to address the shortage of drivers more broadly”.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps added: “The temporary changes to cabotage rules will also make sure foreign hauliers in the UK can use their time effectively and get more goods moving in the supply chain at a time of high demand.”

However, the Road Haulage Association said relaxing cabotage restrictions would “undermine the work being done to provide long-term solutions to deal with problems of lorry driver availability, pay and conditions”.

It explained: “This is not about drivers from outside the UK working for UK companies – this proposal outsources the whole haulage activity. Tax, safety regulation, national insurance obligations are all controlled outside the UK when cabotage is unfettered in the way proposed by government.”

RHA policy director Rod McKenzie called for the government to instead relax restrictions on non-UK drivers working for UK haulage firms and change the Certificates of Professional Competence (CPCs) to allow UK drivers whose certificate has retired or lapsed to return to the industry.

“These two measures would make a difference to the availability of lorry drivers for UK companies. It is a shame the UK government chose not to proceed in a timely way on these measures and instead decided to offshore UK haulage work to unaccountable operators,” Mr McKenzie said.

And further pressure is facing UK road transport supply chains after Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the union would be “exploring” possible strike action to raise driver wages and improve working conditions.

“The treatment of drivers across the board has been nothing short of a disgrace. As the prime minister said recently, the answer to the driver shortage is better wages and improved conditions. This is what we demand.

“Now is the time for action not words. Britain’s drivers kept the nation moving during the worst crisis in living memory. It’s time for employers to pay workers a proper rate for the job.”

Ms Graham added: “Unite will be consulting its members before deciding on next steps, including exploring options for industrial action. I will not allow workers to pay the price for the pandemic.”

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