A disabled lorry driver is accusing ministers of hypocrisy after they called for more people on disability benefits to go back to work, while refusing to make simple changes to equality laws that would help him and many others keep their jobs.
David Chambers says the Equality Act offers no protection to disabled HGV drivers who need simple adjustments made for them when they deliver or collect loads at depots run by large companies like Amazon and Tesco.
He says this is because the act only protects employees from discrimination on business premises, but it offers no protection to disabled people who are not employed by the owners of those premises.
This is the case with all the large depots he delivers to, because they are not obliged to make reasonable adjustments for him under the Equality Act.
And he says the same lack of protection will apply to disabled people in other jobs, such as travelling salespeople, who need to visit premises that are not owned by their employers.
Chambers says he is appalled that the government is publicly insisting that more disabled people must find work, while ministers are refusing to make the small change to legislation needed to ensure that he and other disabled drivers can stay in work.
Although he is legally fit to drive a heavy goods vehicle (HGV), his mobility impairment – he has a blue badge for parking and receives personal independence payment – means he finds it difficult to walk, and he uses a mobility aid.
But when he delivers a load to a depot, he is often asked to wait in a drivers’ room while it is unloaded – due to safety rules – but this can mean a walk of up to half a mile to get there and back.
On other occasions, when he is collecting a load, he faces a long walk to pick up the relevant paperwork.
On one recent occasion, he was told he would have to climb 50 steps to collect the paperwork before he was allowed to take delivery of a load.
Fortunately, a helpful worker overheard the conversation and offered to collect the papers for him.
He believes the adjustments he would need – allowing him to stay in his cab while it was being unloaded, with relevant safeguards put in place, or having someone collect his paperwork for him – would be cheap, safe and not time-consuming.
But without a change in the Equality Act, he fears he may soon have to give up the job he loves and start claiming out-of-work benefits.
Chambers praised the efforts of his MP, Labour’s Cat Smith, who has written letters to ministers and asked questions in parliament about what she sees as a gap in the law.
He told Disability News Service (DNS) that his employer has also been “fantastic” and has made all the reasonable adjustments he requires, including ensuring that he does not have to deliver to sites where he needs to climb up from the ground to secure the load.
But he said: “They can only do so much. They cannot control what bay I go on, or how many steps I have to climb to get paperwork.
“If the law does not change so there are reasonable adjustments for everyone, regardless of where or who you work for, I won’t be able to continue to work for much longer.”
Smith told DNS: “David has identified a loophole in disability legislation which is clearly letting down HGV drivers and other workers who are required to work on premises which are not directly owned by their employers.
“Earlier this year, I asked the government if they would consider amending the Equality Act to require employers to make reasonable adjustments for people with a disability visiting a premises for work purposes, such as HGV drivers visiting a depot.
“Sadly, they refused to do so, with no reasonable explanation as to why.
“This is extremely disappointing and frankly hypocritical of a government which is threatening to take away the benefits of disabled people who do not find work.
“I will be looking for further opportunities to raise this with ministers.”
Despite repeated requests, no-one from the Government Equalities Office had commented by noon today (Thursday).
An Amazon spokesperson said: “Disability inclusion is very important to us.
“We have mechanisms in place to review any requests for adjustments from the third parties we work with as well as their employees and partners.
“We are happy to review this isolated case.”
Chambers said: “They say they have policies in place but I think they need to let their staff know.”
He said he had been told by one depot manager that they would need to contact Amazon head office for guidance.
Tesco did not provide a statement but said this morning that the needs of those working with the company were extremely important and it would encourage drivers to make distribution centre staff aware of their requirements.
It also said it would be happy to talk to Chambers to understand what it could do in the future to assist him.
Picture: An Amazon depot. Picture by Google
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