“I wouldn’t let an animal go to the bathroom we need to go to,” says Rod Brough, a 60-year-old transporter who has been driving for four decades.
“They come out of ports, but there can be 100, 200 drivers going there,” he adds. “It is really very bad, and to say that we are on the front line, and that we are treated as … I would not even say second-class citizens. Worse than the second. As if we were the lowest of the lowest. ”
Rod is one of many truck drivers who can spend five days or more on the road before returning to the comforts of home. However, since the coronavirus struck, there has been a dramatic change in the way it is treated by the large companies it supplies.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Share the whole story, not just the headlines
Along with workers and teachers from the NHS, delivery drivers were identified as key workers by the government at the start of the pandemic for their role in keeping the country running. However, those who transport food to keep supermarkets in stock, equipment to run hospitals, and consumer goods to supply the nation with homes have warned that the businesses they supply lack their needs. essentials.
This includes being able to follow government advice to wash your hands and stay two meters apart during the hours spent at the distribution centers it supplies.
The advice of a multinational company The independent, intended for employees who are asked to wear masks and gloves when interacting with HGV workers, states that delivery drivers are not allowed to visit staff washrooms or canteens company policy. Elsewhere, transporters claim they were told to go out and urinate on the street or defecate in bushes because of the real estate company’s policies prohibiting the use of toilets.
Dave Hill, 40, an articulated truck driver who stays on the road up to six days a week before returning home, said his comrades were pushed to the breaking point by increasing demand and decreasing support from companies they delivered to.
“My wife works for the NHS, but she is crazy because she knows that if we stop, everything stops,” he said. “The drivers pretty much clean themselves with wet wipes and wash with a little boiled water that they have managed to boil in their kettle – because, obviously, we are on the road and when the showers, the toilets and the sinks are not open you are just completely stuck. ”
Denial of these basic services to those who spend a large part of their lives on the road would normally be a gross violation of workers’ rights, but the sudden changes implemented as a result of the virus have put large companies in a difficult situation. as they seek to protect their workplaces and their employees. After Boris Johnson told the country, for the first time, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, a number of highway service stations reacted in a way they believed responsible, blocking the showers. Two days later, prompted by Secretary of Transportation Grant Shapps to reopen, many backed down. “We are sorry, we misunderstood previous advice from the Ministry of Transport,” the operator of the Roadchef petrol stations wrote on social media. “We are studying, for your safety, the safe use of showers to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “
Roadchef, along with other service station operators, has since reopened the food and hygiene offers that keep many truckers running – but the distribution centers of many private companies continue to put barriers between the drivers who drive them. operate the country and the basics they need to maintain basic hygiene. The Road Haulage Association, an industry organization supporting those in the sector, has been inundated with calls from workers denied their basic rights.
“The well-being of the population is paramount and we cannot stress enough that the distribution centers must follow government directives in matters of social distancing. Paul Mummery of the ORS said. “Drivers have the basic right to use the toilet and hand-washing facilities; the Health & Safety Executive is clear that it is illegal to deny access. ”
But even with the law on their side, drivers think there is no other option than to sit up or shut up. Complaining too vigorously is angering the customer – and when the customer is a multinational company, their complaint to a driver employer carries considerable weight. Hill added, “This is just a scary time for drivers because you are stuck in a situation where, if you just got out of there, you fear the employer will fire you. “
But not being able to wash your hands on arrival is just one of the risks that drivers feel when they enter the distribution centers they serve. The chances of spreading the virus only increase in the waiting rooms of some large companies, where it is common for drivers to hand over their keys while the goods are being delivered – letting them sit and wait in designated areas.
Mr. Brough added, “You end up on a site, a first rate site, there could be 50 other pilots there. Now all of these other 50 pilots are all [dropping off] at the same time as you, you are all seated in a room – a large room – 50 drivers were all seated side by side. This is still happening now in some places.
“In a lot of them it’s” we don’t care about you because you’re not part of us “… but when you have all these pilots coughing and struggling with each other, what do you suppose to do? ”
However, although the the policy to protect staff may have been well intentioned, it remains to be feared that the measures would create more risks for company employees by forcing drivers to bypass hygiene facilities. While scientists are still struggling to fully understand the virus, it is believed to be able to remain stable on surfaces for a few hours or even days.
Hill said, “If we can’t clean ourselves, we send it to the box. The box is passed to the guy in the supermarket warehouse, he then moves the apples and oranges – and you can see where it is going.
“There is no driver on this road who thinks we deserve something for what we do. This is what we do. But at the end of the day, the government cared so much about everything else that it didn’t look for the roots of the spread of this virus – and to be frank, we need them to tell the idiots in these companies that do not provide the facilities [to do so] “
A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said, “Carriers are essential to the country’s battle against Covid-19. The ministers asked the operators of motorway services to remain open so that drivers have access to essential facilities. “