BBC Breakfast discuss the shortage of bin lorry drivers
Beer, chicken, fresh fruit, bread and milk are some of the many items not being delivered to major supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA. Popular chain restaurant chains and franchises including Wetherspoon’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Greggs, Costa Coffee, Pizza Hut, Toby Carvery and Subway have been forced to take items off their menus amid food shortages.
Managing Director of Iceland, Richard Walker, said: “I don’t want to scaremonger and there is no need to panic buy but that said availability has never really been so bad.
“It’s getting worse and you can see that when you go into the shops.”
Some HGV drivers have complained of ‘EU red tape’ that forces them to pay hundreds of pounds to complete “unnecessary” safety tests.
One Express reader, who is a lorry driver, said: “We had to obtain a CPC to keep driving the vehicles we had been driving without a CPC but at our own expense.
“Which is not cheap, at the cost of a full weeks training, just to keep doing what we had always been doing.
“A lot never bothered and just gave up driving.
“That was EU legislation and created a driver shortage.”
Should lorry drivers be classed as skilled workers?
While post-Brexit legislation is thought to have led some lorry drivers to change industries as crossing borders in some cases has become more difficult, it is not the only reason for driver shortages as the phenomenon is being experienced across Europe as well as in Mexico and the USA.
The pandemic and the average age of drivers, many of whom are now reaching retirement, are also understood to have influenced the staffing crisis.
The average age of an HGV driver in the UK is 55, and a large proportion of those leaving the industry have chosen to retire.
Approximately 2,000 drivers are leaving the industry every week, but only about 1,000 new recruits are joining the workforce in that same timeframe.
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Before the pandemic, the UK had a shortage of 60,000 lorry drivers, the problem has only got worse since Covid regulations have made travelling a nightmare for drivers.
During Christmas 2020 more than 10,000 lorries were stuck at Dover in Kent for over a week, unable to spend the holiday with their families due to mandatory covid testing restrictions, which pushed many people to give up the trade altogether.
The haulage industry has been accused of failing to recruit young British talent, and lorry Drivers have called for higher wages and better working conditions.
The Facebook group Professional Drivers Protest Group, United Kingdom planned a strike in August which called for an end to “low wages, long hours, general disrespect and disregard to needs of drivers, including being denied access to toilet facilities, no family or social life, more and more rules and expectations, increased responsibility and finally—massive exploitation.”
Iceland Director, Richard Walker, said that the lorry driver crisis is not “an inevitable consequence” of post-Brexit EU immigration rules but a “self-inflicted wound” created by the “government’s failure to appreciate the importance of HGV drivers and the work they do for us”.
He said: “The simple solution is that HGV lorry drivers need to be added to the essential and skilled worker list, like other professions such as ballerinas.
“These HGV drivers have kept the show on the road for 18 months during the pandemic and it’s criminal that we’re not viewing them as skilled workers.”
Some major companies have started to offer incentives, as meat processors are already six weeks behind in Christmas stock preparation and the situation is becoming more and more desperate by the week.
Tesco is offering drivers a £1,000 joining bonus, as are Waitrose, on top of a pay rise of about £2 an hour, and Aldi has increased wages for drivers to earn up to £18.41 per hour.
HGV drivers hired through agencies have gone from earning £350 a day to a huge £800, and some are even offering joining incentives of up to £5000.
Craig Stevens, Managing Director at major logistics company STD Developments Ltd, said: “The drivers can command more money – the profitability of the transport industry is very small in normal circumstances and that means we’ll have to up prices for our customers.”
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Haulage companies want the Government to add drivers to the Shortage Occupations list, allowing them to qualify for a skilled worker visa and making border crossing far easier for European workers.
But the Home Office is yet to approve the move and has instead advised companies to invest in UK drivers.
The Home Office said in a statement: “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.”
Journalist Darren Grimes tweeted: “I find it distasteful for big supermarket groups to be calling on the Government to give them visas for lorry drivers from abroad, here’s a novel idea, how about you pay lorry drivers in this country a bit more and you’ll likely attract people to the long slog?”
One Express reader echoed this sentiment and wrote: “Another example of UK companies relying on foreign drivers to keep costs low and not pay for training.”
Someone else agreed: “The fault is squarely with the transport industry, like agriculture.
“It failed to invest in British people and relied on cheap Europeans, under the excuse that the UK wanted ‘cheap’ food.”
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Shelves are beginning to look bare in many major supermarkets
As the debate over who to blame for the shortage crisis continues, some Britons have scolded report Brexit is partly to blame.
Campaign group Defund the BBC have accused BBC News of trying to pin the problem on Brexit.
The group posted a video of presenter Huw Edwards saying: “The Wetherspoons chain said a number of its pubs have run out of some brands of beer because of problems with supplies.
“A shortage of lorry drivers is said to be an important factor in recent problems with logistics across the food and drink industry.
“Experts say the pandemic is partly to blame, as are the effects of Brexit.”
Defund The BBC wrote on Twitter: “The whole world is grappling with supply chain issues and yet the anti-British Broadcasting Corporation are desperately trying to pin it on Brexit.
“Your campaigning failed, get over it!”
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