Jenny Tipping: Ask yourself, would I put up with these facilities?

The shortage of lorry drivers means that these days we are able to pick and choose which company we work for, and the facilities provided for basic tasks like preparing food, washing and going to the loo are fundamental to our experience of the job.

In the past if a driver complained about poor conditions, the response might have been, “if you don’t like it, you know where you can go, there are plenty more to replace you.” Nowadays, that is no longer the case, so companies would be wise to take note of drivers’ concerns.

Forget the stereotypical image of a lorry driver – nowadays drivers, both men and women, want to be able to wash their hands before eating, prepare their own healthy food, and have access to satisfactory toilet facilities. The job can be unhealthy enough as it is, and many drivers would actively choose a company which supports them in staying healthier.

But by far the worst problems of all are reported at delivery sites. I have personally had the experience of arriving at a warehouse at 4am and being told that the ladies’ loo is on the first floor with the offices, is kept locked, and the only key is in the desk of the woman who does accounts and she is not due in until 8.30am. One driver complained of having to sit on a plastic chair for six hours while being loaded, with little more than a bucket for a toilet. There were adequate loos for the staff there, he just wasn’t allowed to use them.

The real issue is one of respect. Decent facilities are an essential, basic human right that somehow as a truck driver we seem to be thought to be able to do without. Access to decent facilities and respect go hand in hand. If the industry as a whole does not provide good facilities at rest areas, and expects drivers to urinate in the open (one woman was told to go behind the trailer) or exclusively to eat unhealthy fast food, that tells potential or new drivers everything they need to know about how much effort and money is put into their welfare.

The number of people prepared to put up with it is dwindling. Why would a young person pay thousands to acquire a licence when that is the treatment they will get at the end of it?

So what does best practice look like? In terms of facilities at the home depot – toilets and, if necessary, showers, for both sexes, which are cleaned as regularly as those of the office staff. Poor treatment and facilities at collection and delivery sites is unacceptable. As an agency driver, I would not take a job with a company if it included waiting for hours at a drop with no facilities. If something doesn’t change, drivers will vote with their feet. It is simply a case of employers looking at the conditions provided for drivers and thinking, ‘Would I put up with this?’ If the answer is no, then why should a driver?