Bring back EU workers to get food to supermarket shelves, industry bosses beg PM
Haulage bosses have appealed to the Prime Minister to “personally intervene” to resolve the “crippling effects” of a nationwide lorry driver shortage or face empty supermarket shelves this summer. Industry leaders are calling on Boris Johnson to allow EU workers who left the UK because of Brexit to come back to help during this “crisis”, to the fury of British HGV drivers, who say firms should improve wages rather than parachute in foreign drivers willing to work long hours for low pay and endure poor conditions. The easing of lockdown restrictions combined with the arrival of the school summer holidays is putting the haulage industry under increased pressure to get food from suppliers to supermarket.
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In recent weeks, supermarkets and suppliers have been forced to throw out hundreds of tonnes of fresh food because there are not enough drivers available to transport produce before it spoils, they say. The lack of HGV drivers means some supermarkets are already experiencing shortages of certain products and the problem will “only get worse” if not “urgently” addressed, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has told Boris Johnson in a letter signed by more than 20 industry bosses.
The letter, which states that “there has never been a more challenging time” for the UK’s food supply chain, presses Mr Johnson to allow firms access to EU and EEA labour. The exodus of foreign workers brought about by Brexit has left masses of unfilled driver vacancies, and, the letter claims, the problem cannot be solved by training British drivers. Instead, it says: “We ask for the introduction of a temporary worker visa for HGV drivers and for this occupation to be added to the Home Office Shortage Occupation List.”
Until as recently as this month the RHA put the driver shortage at between 65,000 and 70,000. Now it is reporting that this figure actually exceeds 100,000.
“Prior to the pandemic, we estimated a shortage in excess of 60,000… Several factors have exacerbated the shortage which is now at crisis point (over 100,000) and critical supply chains are failing,” the letter states.
Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, tax changes and the large quantities of drivers retiring are all to blame, according to the RHA. The plea to bring over EU workers threatens to escalate tensions between drivers and industry bosses after repeated clashes over pay and working conditions. “Nowhere in the RHA letter does it address reasons why drivers are leaving or not entering the profession,” said one former HGV driver.
“Perhaps if these companies had listened to and responded to the concerns of the drivers they employed, they might have had a better understanding as to why we now have a huge driver shortage,” he added. “If they had addressed concerns like long hours…improved wages [and] treated drivers with respect and fairness, then [they] would they find drivers that would want to stay. “This problem [has] been coming for years.”
- ^ Brexit (inews.co.uk)
- ^ who say firms should improve wages rather than parachute in foreign drivers (inews.co.uk)
- ^ forced to throw out hundreds of tonnes of fresh food (inews.co.uk)
- ^ Food shortages, fresh produce left to rot and prices to rise amid lorry driver ‘crisis’ (inews.co.uk)
- ^ @kt_grant (twitter.com)
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