A survey of thousands of professional drivers in the UK, who are members of the country’s leading union, Unite, has revealed that many are routinely denied access to toilets during working hours and that the initial lockdown earlier this year made the situation even worse.

Large drivers' survey

Unite has released the findings of the survey of over 6,000 of its driver members who are predominantly employed driving buses or lorries to coincide with World Toilet Day (Thursday 19 November).

In the survey members reported that during their normal working day, 70 per cent do not have adequate access to toilets and washing facilities.

Lockdown lack of toilets

During the lockdown less than one in five drivers (20 per cent) reported that they continued to have adequate access to toilet and washing facilities at all times.

Where members reported that they did not have access to adequate toilet and washing facilities, six per cent reported that this always occurred, while well over a third (39 per cent) reported this was a frequent occurrence. A further 35 per cent recorded this was an occasional occurrence.

Legal duty for access

Commercial premises have a legal duty to provide access to toilets and washing facilities to drivers making deliveries or collections. Despite it being a legal requirement and companies risking prosecution for failing to comply, the number of employers refusing access, and therefore aiding the spread of Covid-19, increased dramatically during the initial lockdown and similar problems are emerging during the second lockdown in England.

Members’ personal accounts of their experiences are particularly harrowing: Several members report developing Covid type illnesses they attribute to being unable to wash their hands as the government directed. 

Illness made worse

Others record that a lack of access to toilets has worsened longstanding conditions, such as diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome, or led to illnesses such as bladder infections. Women drivers reported that a lack of toilet access during their period was particularly humiliating and damaged their health.

Totally unacceptable

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “It is completely unacceptable that tens of thousands of workers are being routinely denied the basic right to have access to toilets in the 21st century.

“This is making workers ill and during the pandemic the lack of handwashing facilities will undoubtedly have increased the spread of Covid-19.

“Employers have a clear legal duty to allow drivers to use toilets, but this is too often ignored. Companies who fail to ensure the welfare of their workers should be prosecuted for public health offences.

“It is simply not good enough that professional drivers such as bus drivers have to rely on visiting takeaways or a supermarket to go to the toilet, because companies are failing to ensure facilities are available.

“Far too many workers are becoming ill or even being forced to leave their jobs because they don’t have access to toilets when they need them.

“Unite is committed to ensuring that all workers have access to decent toilets and this is increasingly becoming the focus of local campaigns.”

Other groups denied toilet dignity 

While the focus of the survey was on professional drivers, Unite recognises that tens of thousands of other workers are denied toilet dignity (being able to use a clean toilet with hot and cold water washing facilities without obstruction) every day.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org 

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.