The hopes of thousands of truck drivers stranded in southeast England spending Christmas with their families have been dashed after UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned that the logjam in Dover will take days to clear.
The sudden closure of the French border on Sunday night, and subsequent 48-hour shutdown, has caused chaos and severe disruptions to the crucial freight routes between the UK and Europe.
France reopened its border on Wednesday to drivers who show a negative test result for COVID-19, however a slow start to the testing has failed to ease the massive backlogs.
Desperate drivers today spelled out ‘help’ with traffic cones as over 6,000 drivers remain trapped at the Port of Dover without access to water, decent food, accessible toilets, sanitation facilities or places to rest outside of their cabs.
Drivers have voiced frustration at the lack of information and lack of access to even the most basic facilities.
“We have no access to reliable information about what’s to come next, when this is going to end. We keep getting contradicting information from the media. All we know is that the border was “reopened” on the basis that we will get a COVID test. We don’t know when these tests will be available to us, how to get them. I’ve been on M20 for three days now, nothing has moved,” one stranded Polish driver told the International Transport Worker’ Federation today.
“We’re cut off from the world. The police are not letting anyone through. They’re treating us as we’re already sick. They say that we’re being contained for sanitary reasons, but I am asking where’s the sanitation for us? Most of us don’t have any water left. There’s a station every kilometre with toilets but it’s not enough. Let’s be honest there are people here who haven’t been able to wash in three days. We have already accepted, in our heads, that this Christmas will be like this. Most of us have families. Talking to children though is really tough. How can you explain, how do you make them understand what is happening? This is an awful tragedy for thousands of people,” he said.
ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton called for urgent assistance for drivers caught in the gridlock: “Over the past few days we’ve heard harrowing stories. Thousands of drivers digging makeshift toilets. Thousands without easy access to food, water or a shower. Drivers deserve better than this. UK authorities must urgently act to ensure that stranded drivers have access to food, water, toilets, sanitation facilities and other forms of support”
“Again it is transport workers, who have sacrificed so much throughout this pandemic to keep the world moving, who are the innocent victims of COVID restrictions. The coronavirus pandemic has starkly exposed that access to decent sanitary facilities is truly a global issue. Lack of access to sanitary facilities is an affront to human dignity for all transport workers,” said Cotton.
This backs calls from Unite the Union National Officer for Road Transport Adrian Jones for the government to prioritise dispensing urgent assistance for drivers.
“The government’s priority must be to ensure that all stranded drivers are looked after and have access to clean toilets, washing facilities and hot food. The last few days have shown that ministers’ paltry reassurances that welfare provisions would be supplied were empty words. That needs to change and now if the inhumane and unsanitary conditions reported by drivers around Dover are not to extend into the new year,” said Jones.
ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton extended the solidarity of the world’s transport workers to drivers caught up on the ongoing border chaos. Cotton also welcomed news that a Brexit trade deal has been agreed.
“We welcome that a Brexit trade deal has been done. The challenge now for authorities is to be prepared to prevent further disruptions when the transition period ends on January 1,” said Cotton.