Christopher Johns, 37, from Burwash, Sussex, has been an HGV driver for more than 10 years, and drives long distance in UK and Europe. Here he speaks about what conditions are like for HGV drivers in the UK, and why he feels there may be no quick solution to the current truck driver crisis.
“I’m always staggered by how much truck drivers have been taken for granted in the UK. We work so hard for very little money. Our wages have desperately needed improving for such a long time. A friend’s starting salary at Lidl is the same as that of many trucker friends. I could earn more if I did temp work, like many others do, but I have a wife and three kids, I need job security. I only earn enough now because I do a lot of overseas work, where you get bigger expenses allowances.
“The difference between how truck drivers are treated in the UK and the rest of Europe is huge. We aren’t catered for in the UK. There are inadequate or no facilities at all across parts of the UK, particularly in the south, to handle a driver’s needs.
“We can spend a week or two or longer away from home. This means we are forced to sleep in tiny lay-bys or industrial estate roads, with no access to basic amenities. The larger services on the big motorways are still not equipped with enough parking for large-scale vehicles, and they charge trucks around £30 a night for the privilege. The rest of Europe doesn’t charge for parking. France, for instance, supports HGV drivers with the Routier chain of partnership restaurants and bars – they provide showers, free parking. Getting into Europe is a relief every time.
“My family has suffered a lot – I would say this is the same for many in the industry. My wife has been incredibly understanding with regards to my time away, which in an average month is about 20 days. I have missed so much of my kids growing up – I regret this so much.
“The government should think about showing a lot more appreciation for those still driving before trying to find thousands of new drivers. Extending working hours for HGV drivers would be crazy – there would be horrible accidents. I also think the number of EU drivers willing to come back will be lower than some might predict. Far more emphasis needs to be placed on this job as a skilled trade, instead of just a tick on your licence.
The wage structure needs looking at. But first and foremost they need to make conditions better in the UK. There is no easy answer to this shortfall; this was such an obvious and predictable situation we are now in. The UK infrastructure is so far from where it needs to be. I can’t see things improving overnight.”