2nd December 2021

Is cabotage sabotaging the UK haulage industry?

The UK government have temporarily extended extra cabotage rights for non-UK drivers to try and reduce the supply chain pressure caused by the shortage of HGV drivers.  These new rules will be active from October 28th 2021 to April 30th 2022.

By relaxing these rules, international drivers will now have a 14-day period to conduct unlimited journeys in the UK. Vehicle excise duty will not be applied during this period.

The reaction to this from the Road Haulage Association has been strong, with policy director Rob McKenzie saying we shouldn’t “let cabotage sabotage UK hauliers”. But what is cabotage, how much impact are the new rules having on the UK’s haulage sector and could it be beneficial?

What is Cabotage?

Cabotage is a process designed to allow the transport of goods in one country by a driver registered in another country. The process increases the number of service providers, helping to make haulage cheaper and more efficient – increasing the number of deliveries that can be made across the UK in the build-up to Christmas and the winter months.

For example, under the previous cabotage rules, an EU driver could enter the UK to deliver goods and then carry out a total of three jobs within the UK before returning home. This activity would have to be completed within seven days of arrival.

After Brexit, this was reduced to two jobs, but for a 26-week window, beginning on October 28th 2021. The journey limit has been removed, and the time doubled from 7 days to 14, meaning a significant increase in the number of drivers available during this period.


What does the haulage industry think?

The RHA has been vocal in opposing the government’s strategy for several reasons.

The first is because they view it as a stopgap rather than progress toward resolving the driver shortage. It may help during the busy winter period, but cabotage is not a long-term solution and is prolonging difficulties already faced by the UK haulage industry. They say it is not offering any steps towards a long-term solution and potentially prolonging difficulties faces by the haulage industry in the UK.

Another concern is the lack of regulation faced by cabotage drivers during this period. UK drivers are assessed via telematics, ensuring safety standards by closely monitoring the number of hours spent on the road. Cabotage drivers will be under no such regulation – potentially endangering health and safety.

The third concern is that the unlimited nature of the rule change means that companies based outside the UK will be able to operate without having to adhere to UK tax or safety regulations. In addition, cabotage drivers will not be subject to the UK’s minimum wage rules. Overall, this could see a rise in underpaid drivers working for companies not obliged to pay tax – creating a large number of non-UK trucks that can potentially undercut already struggling UK businesses.

Logistics UK also expressed concern, suggesting that extending the period to 14 days is too long. As cabotage drivers will need to take their weekly rest in the UK, this will create more situations where drivers have to sleep at the side of the road or in unsecured locations.

How does this impact the driver shortage?

The cabotage rule change has been made as a very short-term measure to minimise disruption during the winter months and compensate for a large number of unoptimised delivery spaces on trucks - currently, just 60% of grocery trucks are full.

On a basic level, increasing the number of drivers available, encouraging goods into the country, and helping to clear warehouses faster will all help to temporarily minimise gaps in the supply chain. However, it is a short-term measure for the Christmas period rather than a long-term solution and the same problems will still be there after the cabotage rules revert at the end of April.

While it might be beneficial in some areas, these changes will do little to resolve the driver shortage.

How does this impact UK drivers?

For many UK truck drivers, the move toward cabotage is frustrating as this temporary fix appears to have been prioritised over investment for recruiting more British drivers. With 91% of HGV drivers in the UK already saying that they feel undervalued, feeling that their work and wages could potentially be undercut will do little to support the development of the government’s promised high-wage, high-skill economy.

The only way to achieve that is to invest in drivers old and new. Changes to training and testing for new drivers, alongside improved pay and conditions are having a positive impact on attracting a broader range of new drivers to the industry

Mark Garner, SNAP's Managing Director added “In the long term, more focus on providing drivers with improved working conditions will help to make the industry become a viable option for more people looking for a new career path – gradually shrinking the now notorious 100,000 driver gap with a sustainable level of new UK drivers.”

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