Empty shelves this summer?
Industry leaders are warning of gaps on our supermarkets’ shelves this summer because of an “unimaginable” collapse of supply chains due to a shortage of lorry drivers available to deliver produce to the UK from Europe. According to The Road Haulage Association, Britain is short of around “60,000 lorry drivers”.
The underlying concern, especially from supermarkets, is that shortages in store may lead to customers returning to the behaviours of panic buying and bulk buying as was the case back in spring 2020. There is also the fear that the shortage of supply will be exacerbated further with hospitality businesses re-opening.
What has caused the shortage of lorry drivers?
The Road Haulage Association estimates that some 30,000 HGV driving tests did not take place last year because of the COVID pandemic. Many UK lorry drivers had originated from Europe (particularly Bulgaria and Romania). It is believed that when the pandemic hit, many drivers returned back to their country of origin. Brexit, however, has made it considerably difficult for many to return as a result of the new immigration rules which took effect from 1 January 2021.
What are the new immigration rules?
Since 1 January 2021, EU citizens are covered by a new points based immigration system, which equally applies to non-EU citizens. This system gives priority to high-skilled roles.
Lorry drivers are not among the list of eligible skilled occupations, meaning that they are excluded from a skilled work visa. This is also the case for waiting staff in the hospitality sector, which has resulted in many hospitality venues, such as restaurants, struggling to find and retain staff.
What is being done?
In order to tackle the lorry driver shortage, some leaders in the industry have requested for lorry drivers to be put on the ‘official shortage occupation list’, which would allow workers to come from abroad to fill this vacancy. It is unlikely that the government will agree to this suggestion, especially as this would go against the purpose of the new immigration system: for employers to use domestic labour.
The government has however taken action through increasing HGV driving test capacity and funding apprenticeships. It has also announced a temporary extension effective from 12 July 2021 for an initial 4 weeks (until 8 August 2021) which will allow drivers to work an extra hour per shift (from 9 to 10 hours). Drivers will also be able to undertake two eleven hour shifts per week. It has been reported that this will allow businesses to get the stock they need with wholesalers being expected to complete up to 15% more deliveries each day.
The Road Haulage Association has opposed this move by the government on safety grounds, stating this to not be the answer for the already “exhausted” drivers. This will also arguably make the job “less attractive”, reversing the efforts many freight companies have made in order to attract new drivers by improving pay and working conditions.
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If you'd like more information on this update, please contact Daisy Divoka.
This article was assisted by Maryam Mouzaoui