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Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon urged to suspend health certifications for HGV licences

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Unite's Jackie Pollock

Unite's Jackie Pollock

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Unite's Jackie Pollock

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has been urged to suspend the requirement by HGV drivers aged over 45 to obtain medical certification for licence renewals.

Unite union regional secretary Jackie Pollock has written to Ms Mallon, highlighting that haulage drivers who are still paid per load face the immediate prospect of a loss of income when their driving licenses expire.

He said: "To renew a driving license, professional drivers aged over 45 years have to submit a medical examination report along with their application. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically impacted the ability to obtain such reports and while a few larger employers are actively contracting medical examinations for their drivers, that is far from being universal.

"In all other parts of the UK, the need for a medical report to accompany a vocational driving licence application has been suspended for a one-year period. Northern Ireland is now the only place where drivers are expected to meet this onerous criterion.

"This is having a particularly sharp impact on older HGV drivers who are employed through precarious working contracts, such as those who are paid 'per load' and where the employer expects the employee to source their own medical certification.

"We are becoming increasingly aware of HGV drivers who face the immediate prospect of losing their livelihoods as a result. Families where the driver is the main bread-earner face a severe cliff-edge in household incomes in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis," he added.

In response, Ms Mallon said the one-year licence in Great Britain is a temporary arrangement for bus and lorry drivers aged 45 and over and that replicating that approach here requires amending primary legislation.

"I took legal advice on this which confirmed that since EU law does not provide for one-year licences, such action would be beyond the legislative competence of the Assembly.

"Also, it would still mean that a substantial number of drivers with health conditions would require a prior medical assessment before they can be issued with a licence," she said.

"I therefore moved to bring forward an alternative solution. A new EU regulation will become law in the coming days that means that driving licences with an expiry date of between February 1 and August 31, 2020 will be treated as being valid for a further seven months. That extension will automatically apply to all driving licences expiring during the period.

"For some lorry and bus drivers, it will remove the requirement to have a medical assessment conducted at this difficult time. It will also help any customers who could not access the website or were finding it difficult to renew their driving licence online.

"The extension will also allow the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) to start processing provisional driving licences again.

"I believe this represents a pragmatic solution to licence renewal problems," she added.

Belfast Telegraph