The transport industry leaders warn the lorry driver shortage is about to get worse, and the government is pressured to relax the country’s immigration rules.
Labour urged the Government to allow the foreign workforce to make up the shortfall of lorry drivers. "We need action now," shadow minister Kerry McCarthy told PoliticsHome.
The mix between COVID-19, Brexit, and the pre-existent drivers’ shortage is massively affecting the country’s food supply chains.
The ageing workforce, the number of drivers who decided to change jobs during the pandemic, and the foreign workers that left the UK without being able to return due to post-Brexit immigration rules, are all pieces of the catastrophic situation the industry is now facing.
This nationwide issue led to shortages in many other industries, such as Health care agriculture, and hospitality. Many industry groups have urged the government to assist in reducing the HGV driver shortage crisis, at least on the short term by allowing foreign drivers to take up lorry driving jobs in the UK.
Labour asked the government to reconsider the immigration rules, as this may be the best option. "The government’s inability to get a grip on this situation threatens businesses and consumers, who are already seeing empty shelves in the shops this summer," McCarthy declared. (…)British businesses can’t afford to wait until 2022 for the Government to deliver enough driving tests for hauliers – we need action now. (…) They should have recognised these risks and planned far better, having been warned time and again by the industry. (…)The Government have missed opportunities to work with the Migration Advisory Committee to plan for this. That must be urgently addressed."
However, the government declared this is not an option to be considered. The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps said in a letter to Labour, that he is not embracing the idea to use the foreign workforce to sort out the HGV drivers’ shortage. "Leaving the EU has provided us with the opportunity to introduce a new immigration system while building a more resilient domestic workforce (…) I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising our domestic workforce and supporting the many UK-based workers who now face an uncertain future due to the impact of the measures to tackle Covid-19 and need to find new employment opportunities."
A government spokesperson declared: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad."
The only measures the government took so far were to relax the driving hours and to offer £7,000 funding per apprenticeship for new recruits.
The government also plans to simplify the testing process, to increase the number of candidates who are trying to get their HGV licence. According to the industry, around 45,000 tests were missed during the pandemic.
However, Labour and industry groups say these measures are not enough for the crisis the sector is facing, and it will take many months to bring the shortage down with just domestic drivers. “As an industry, logistics was reliant upon EU workers to supplement domestic employees, and the loss of European drivers after Brexit and the suspension on driving tests during lockdown is now being felt," Logistics UK's Alex Veitch declared. He also added: "While UK citizens train and qualify as the next generation of drivers, which can take up to nine months, it is vital that the government extends its temporary visa regime, recently extended to agricultural workers, to logistics employees to ensure that the UK can continue to receive the goods it needs in a timely fashion.”
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