Drivers transporting essentials will be able to work for longer than EU rules would usually allow, the government has said.
The relaxation is in response to “pressures on local and national supply chains” and applies to drivers in Britain who are transporting food and other essential goods, such as medical supplies.
It comes amid growing concern about port congestion, unusual demand patterns and the effects of COVID-19-related restrictions and demands on supply chains, the government said.
Drivers will be able to work two consecutive six-day weeks until 30 December for goods travelling between transport hubs, warehouses and stores.
Congestion problems first emerged at Felixstowe, which handles 40% of Britain’s container traffic, but delays have since spread to Southampton port.
Some of the backlog is due to the coronavirus pandemic and part is caused by companies trying to stockpile goods ahead of the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December.
Tesco is among those to have said it is stockpiling long-life goods in preparation for possible supply disruption at the end of the Brexit transition.
Speaking hours before PM Boris Johnson was due in Brussels for last ditch trade deal talks, Tesco chairman John Allan said the UK’s largest supermarket chain was spreading imports across UK ports to avoid relying on just a few points of entry.
Consumers have been warned that they might not get their Christmas orders delivered in time this year, with a number of major retailers saying they are seeing long delays in receiving products or parts.
The disruption has also forced Honda to temporarily shut its Swindown car factory and fellow carmakers Bentley and Nissan are reportedly considering flying parts in.
On Wednesday, the leaders of organisations such as the UK Major Ports Group, the UK Chamber of Shipping, and Logistics UK wrote to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps calling on the government to act.
“Although we are hopeful that the current peak of port congestion has passed, high volumes remain and could persist for some months, running into the period of the end of the EU transition,” the letter said.
UK Major Ports Group chief executive Tim Morris said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented volatility in global supply chains. The impact is being felt across the world, including here in the UK.
“The situation at the UK’s ports is improving following commitment of extra resources, working closely with customers and ports across the UK taking on more traffic.
“However, we are not complacent. Improvements at UK ports will take time to work through supply chains, they remain very busy and the underlying problem is global.”
Logistics UK, which represents logistics businesses, said it is “committed to delivering Christmas” despite problems at ports.
“The sector is doing everything it can to overcome the ongoing issues at some of the UK’s ports… and deliver the festive goods the nation needs,” it added.
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