LONDON – Britain’s move to issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign truck drivers is a short-term fix that won’t solve a severe labor shortage that threatens to disrupt retailers significantly as it approaches Christmas, warned business leaders.
Long lines of vehicles formed at gas stations for a second day on Saturday as motorists lined up, some for hours, to refuel after oil companies reported the lack of drivers was causing transportation problems from refineries to forecourt, leading some ration operators and others to close gas stations.
The fuel supply issues follow warnings from the retail industry that unless the driver shortage is addressed, there will be major issues ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
“After 18 very difficult months, I know how important this Christmas is to all of us and that is why we are taking these steps as soon as possible to ensure that preparations stay on track,” said Transport Minister Grant. Shapps in a statement.
The UK’s Road Haulage Association (RHA) says Britain faces a shortage of some 100,000 drivers, due to the departure of workers in the sector, Brexit and the pandemic, which has brought an end to training and driving tests for about a year.
According to government plans 5,000 heavy truck drivers could come to Britain on temporary visas, while 5,500 more visas would be issued to poultry workers “to avoid any further potential pressure on the food industry”.
These short-term visas, which the government previously refused to introduce despite appeals from retail and logistics companies, will expire on December 24.
In addition, up to 4,000 people will be trained as new truck drivers, letters will be sent to nearly one million truck drivers enticing them to return to the industry, and Examiners from the Department of Defense will be recruited to expedite the testing process. .
The government said visas were not a long-term solution and the long-term solution was to hire more UK drivers with better wages and conditions.
“We are acting now, but industries must also play their part with working conditions that continue to improve and deserved wage increases continue to be maintained so that companies retain new drivers,” Shapps said.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, who warned on Friday that the government had only 10 days to address the driver shortage issue, said plans were insufficient.
“The 5,000 visa limit will do little to make up for the current shortfall,” he said.
“Supermarkets alone estimated they needed at least 15,000 truck drivers to keep their businesses running at full capacity before Christmas and avoid disruption or uptime issues.”
Others have warned that European drivers may no longer want to work in Britain anyway.
“I expect that many drivers will not return to the UK even if the UK government allows them,” Marco Digioia, general secretary of the European Road Haulers Association, told i newspaper. —Reuters