The shortage of lorry drivers in the UK has been attributed to queues at petrol stations and warnings of a lack of supermarkets. As a result, some companies are reportedly trying to attract drivers with sign up bonuses and substantial pay increases.
But how exactly is the job?
Traveling long distances carrying important items can be appealing to those who like the idea of solitude and being on the go. Yet our recent report highlights the serious concerns of drivers about their work.
We analyzed hundreds of messages from online discussion forums and interviewed drivers to check the reality of life on the road at HGV.
We often saw dissatisfaction about a lack of work-life balance, long, unpredictable hours, and low pay. There were also concerns about the relationship with management and work pressure.
The apparent lack of drivers has done little for the HGV to provide stewards with any power or leverage. Describing the culture in the industry, one person said: “Drivers have their place. They can’t complain, they can’t do anything.”
And many people took issue with the reduction claims in the first place. One explained:
It’s a lie to bring in more people so that the hourly rate can be reduced. This is a thief. If there is a shortage of drivers, every company will be fighting for the drivers [with offers of better pay]. It’s not happening.
Another agreed, saying the situation “forces drivers to compete among themselves” because few employers offer such low wages. The implied message, according to this driver, was: “If you don’t want to work for this money, we’ll find other people who do.”
Commenting on the competition for the work, another admitted:
I’m doing all kinds of weird shifts because if I don’t do it, someone else will get my shift. I’ll go to work and drive, even if I feel like I haven’t slept enough.
One participant who agreed there was a shortage offered this explanation: “There is a shortage of drivers because the industry is living in the past. See how people are treated. People are leaving immediately.”
The drivers’ behavior in our study came up frequently, which showed displeasure with the high level of monitoring and investigation. As well as tachographs, which monitor routes and travel times, many lorries have cameras that film the exterior of the vehicle and the interior of the driver’s cabin. While these tools may ensure that legal driving hours are not exceeded and record accidents on the road, many felt that they were used as tools of micro-management.
The passage is analyzed to the nth degree by someone sitting in an office. Why did you turn left at that junction and not go straight? Why have you done this, why have you gone that route, why were you getting late in getting there?
Another said: “The thing that makes this job sad is that I feel like I’m always being watched.”
Others complained that unexpected shifts and long hours were incompatible with any sort of work-life balance.
One commented: “We have no social life. Most lorry drivers are the same. They either work the whole week or they work very long hours a day so when they get home, they are too tired to do anything else. ”
Another said of the drivers: “Their marriages are falling apart, their relationships are falling apart. Many of them do not see their children or their grandchildren.”
One told us how he was missing out on his children’s development, saying:
I don’t go to nights without my parents, I don’t go to Christmas shows, I don’t do any plays. I don’t see anything I don’t pick up the kids from school.
Concerns about pay were common. Because the sector is highly competitive with low profit margins, many workers believed that wages were kept low to reduce overall costs.
One argued that there were too many drivers with licenses who chose not to work in the area, saying: “We are short of 50,000 drivers. We really have a shortfall of 50,000 people who work for minimum wage.” Want to do it. They’re just fed up with it.”
While our report reflects personal experiences and perspectives, it also provides an insight into the reality of working in a field that affects all consumers. While Brexit and COVID-19 may have caused driver shortages, there are deeper underlying problems that need to be addressed.
HGV drivers are an important part of the economy, and more needs to be done to ensure they are supported. It starts with listening to the experiences and concerns of the workers. As one driver commented: “Government investment in overseeing the health and welfare of the industry is negligible. They don’t bother to go to the drivers and talk to them – no one does.”