A failure of government: Army drivers to be deployed to deliver fuel to station forecourts

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Fuel crisis: Government calls on army

Military drivers will be deployed to deliver fuel to forecourts from Monday as the crisis at the pumps continues.

Almost 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, have been training at haulier sites and will start deliveries to help relieve the situation – which ministers say is stabilising.

The government also announced that a temporary visa scheme for nearly 5,000 foreign food haulage drivers, which was due to expire on 24 December, would be extended to the end of February, after criticism of how attractive it would be to drivers.

This is a total failure by government, there is no excuse, driver shortages have been discussed for years.

The government announced on Friday evening that 300 overseas fuel tanker drivers would be able to come to the UK “immediately” under a bespoke temporary visa that would last until March.

About 4,700 other visas intended for foreign food haulage drivers will be extended beyond the initial three-month period and will last from late October to the end of February.

To ease farming shortages, 5,500 poultry workers will be allowed in to help keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys before Christmas.

Where once the UK relied on drivers coming from Eastern Europe, after leaving the bloc many of them have left in search of better pay and working conditions on the continent, according to Nikolay Rashkov, Head of EU Affairs at the Union of International Haulers in Bulgaria.

“A shortage of drivers in the early 2000s in the UK led to a need to employ a cheaper workforce from newer European Union states,” he said.

“Twenty years later the shortage hasn’t changed, but currently after Brexit the UK says it doesn’t want uneducated people coming from the EU. You don’t need a university degree to be a lorry driver. So they qualify as unwanted people in the country.”

The government has said these workers, who can arrive from late October, will be able to stay up to 31 December under the temporary visa scheme.

But it said the visas would not be a long-term solution; it instead wanted employers to invest in the domestic workforce rather than rely on overseas labour.

400,000 more drivers needed across Europe

If labour shortages are driving up the wages of low-paid workers then what is wrong with that?

The haulage industry says the UK is short some 100,000 drivers — an extreme example which has been exacerbated by Brexit — but Germany and Poland are also grappling with a serious shortfall.

According to Transport Intelligence, the driver shortfall across Europe now surpasses 400,000.

According to many who work — or worked — in the industry, bad working conditions, long distances, and long stretches of time away from home are some of the reasons why people have left in droves.

“Some companies put up their offices in Poland or Turkey or whatever country that would give the lowest wages,” Ron Van Lingen, a former haulage company owner, suggested.

“And the drivers were then put to work in Holland or Europe or wherever, but were paid according to the wages of their own countries, instead of the law which said that you have to pay a driver of a Dutch truck or a German truck according to the German wages.

“It was a way to undercut wages, and undercut your own cost and create a better competitive position, but it went over the back of the drivers as we put it.”

The problems in industry have been foreseen for at least a decade.

Truck driver unions say the onus is now on EU member states to ensure that labour laws are being upheld and conditions are improved if the situation is ever to be resolved.

As for the UK, Christmas won’t be cancelled, according to Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London.

He told said the shortage was “not surprising” following post-lockdown reopening, and that “Brexit had aggravated this” but was not the main cause.

The Brussels Times reported that Belgium is looking for 5,000 lorry drivers to prevent empty shelves. There are currently 5,000 job openings for lorry drivers in Belgium, which needed to be filled urgently to keep the shop shelves filled, says Febetra, the federation of Belgian transport and logistics service providers.

Likewise, the Irish Times has just announced Ireland will be facing ‘an imminent national emergency’ as the industry is struggling with an exodus of foreign truckers and the inability to attract young staff.

The article goes into some depth helping readers understand the issues surrounding the shortfall of HGV drivers. A shortage of 3,000-4,000, lorry drivers has put haulage firms under pressure to keep trucks on the road amid severe disruptions to the global supply chain as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, exacerbated in western Europe by new post-Brexit border requirements.

The problem of an industry of ageing drivers has long been flagged: a future skills report as far back as 2015 forecast a demand for just under 7,000 HGV drivers to last year. A follow-up report, in 2018, addressing skills shortages linked to Brexit, said this statistic was “a cause for concern, requiring urgent attention”.

The pinch is being felt now because many eastern European drivers have not returned from extended summer holidays, having found alternative work in Poland’s soaring economy.

‘National emergency’

Eugene Drennan, the president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, has put the crisis in his industry in stark terms, saying the Government needs to treat the shortage as “an imminent national emergency” or else face similar supply chain shortages as those in the UK, where a dearth of 100,000 drivers has left some supermarket shelves empty.

“It is a very severe crisis that has been many years in the making, but the recent disasters and supply chain shocks with Brexit and the blockage in the Suez Canal are why we are hearing about it now,” says Nikolaos Valantasis Kanellos, lecturer in logistics at Technological University Dublin.

The supply chain management analyst says the shortage of drivers in Ireland may seem minor compared with the UK, but the State’s reliance on-road transportation, which accounts for 99 per cent of goods distributed, makes the problem equally challenging.

In Britain, there have been shortages of goods, from milkshakes to building materials. Oil company BP temporarily closed some forecourts because the lack of drivers prevented fuel from being transported from refineries. Ireland has not yet suffered the same widespread supply shortages.

For readers to fully understand the European wide crisis they should know.

The logistics industry has been warning about driver shortages for many years but a combination of Covid-19, Brexit and the ongoing structural issues restricting the supply of drivers has brought us to a crisis point.

In the UK there is a shortfall of at least 76,000 drivers. Across Europe, the total reaches 400,000 drivers, according to research by Transport Intelligence.

Ti’s latest research paper on European Driver Shortages assesses the scale of the crisis, country by country.
The most heavily affected European countries are Poland, the UK and Germany. The UK is in a particularly difficult position as it is not only grappling with Brexit, but it also saw many European workers leave over the course of the pandemic, as fears over lockdowns grew.

Poland: According to Ti estimates, the shortage in Poland in 2020 is around 124,000 drivers. According to IRU, Poland is one of the most heavily impacted European countries and driver shortage in 2020 stands at around 37%.

UK: The shortfall of truck drivers in 2020 is estimated at 60,000-76,000. The RHA estimates that there is currently a shortfall of about 60,000 hauliers in the UK. According to data from the Q2 Labour Force Survey for 2020, the calculated shortfall is even higher than RHA estimates and stands at around 76,000.

Germany: Between 45,000 and 60,000 truck drivers are ‘missing’ in 2020 in the German market alone, according to the DSLV and BGL, and this number is only increasing. The IRU predicts a gap of 185,000 drivers by 2027 in Germany.

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