Problems have been brewing for years in UK’s food supply chain, where drivers sleep in their cabs after 70-hour weeks on insecure contracts
Empty shelves are still the topic of the day. Remainers are in their element, no time for finger-licking good KFC even if there was any, they are too busy taking to social media claiming they “told you so”!
No one wants to hear the truth, the reality, Ben Chapman writes an excellent article hitting the nail on the head, he actually takes the time to talk to the lorry drivers where he quickly comes to an understanding, its always been about a race to the bottom and just for a change, this time the workers get the better end of a shitty stick.
Without an excess of cheap labour, the driver gets a chance to wrestle a decent wage for a job well done.
Debate on the topic has divided partly along the fault line of Brexit. Some Remain voters have taken to social media to point out that the UK needs foreign lorry drivers. Thanks to Brexit, the argument goes, many of those drivers have now decided to leave because living in the UK is more difficult and less appealing.
Leave voters offer a different diagnosis: workers from lower-paid countries were suppressing wages in the UK. Drivers from eastern Europe were willing to put up with conditions that their British counterparts would not.
Neither argument engages with perhaps more pertinent questions: why were such low labour standards allowed by law? Why did they persist under successive governments of all colours? And what is being done to improve them?
It’s been a constant race to the bottom with the big six supermarkets squeezing every last once out of the supplies. Wages are always first to be hit. We have seen this with suppliers from the dairy farms providing milk to the farmers providing veg.
Brexit has caused a systemic shift and it’s the working poor who are benefiting and no amount of Remain/Rejoin rhetoric can upset the fact that for the first time in decades they have a little power.
Ask yourself when was the last time anyone talked about wage rises on an industrial scale?
For years, British shoppers have enjoyed the benefits that an underpaid and underappreciated workforce has delivered.
“Those days are gone. If you want to fix the problem [of food shortages] you have to pay workers more but you also have to take away the power and monopoly of the supermarkets otherwise that pay rise will be seen in supermarket prices. There is no other option.”
Larry Elliot writes: The number of job vacancies has topped the 1m level for the first time. Firms are screaming out for staff. Labour shortages abound. Wage growth is accelerating. There are calls from industry lobby groups for the government to ease the pressure by granting more visas for EU workers.
At which point it may be worth taking a second or two to ask a simple question: if labour shortages are driving up the wages of low-paid workers then what is wrong with that?
We know he is right and let’s be honest it really is not such a crisis people are going hungry. People were actually going hungry long before Brexit. In work poverty and a defunct system of universal credit has driven hundreds of thousands to food banks. That a real crisis for that has existed for well over a decade and has nothing to do with lorry drivers or the lack of.
It is embarrassing the Labour parties only answer is to blame Brexit and play on bringing back cheap exploited labour from east European countries taking away any hope of drivers leveraging better pay.
Elliot goes on to explain the realities of life for most people. There is something seriously wrong about an economy where more than half the people living below the official poverty line are from working households and where a large chunk of the welfare bill is spent supplementing the incomes of those who do not earn enough to get by.
Employers have only a limited range of options if they find themselves short of staff and it is not possible to call up reinforcements from overseas. They can invest more in labour-saving equipment; they can invest more in training to raise skill levels; or they can pay more in order to attract staff. It is not immediately obvious why any of these should be either impossible or undesirable.
As we suggested in July the best method of creating a sustainable economic system in this modern age is to invest in people. Building on technological innovation will be paramount in this new green industrial revolution but for a long time to come, you will still need people.
Vocational job schemes should be free to anyone unemployed.
Capitalism relies on the existence of a pool of cheap labour, ‘a mass of human material always ready for exploitation’. This ‘reserve army’ is an ever-ready supply of labour when needed by capitalism, the existence of which keeps wages low for the mass of the working class and maintains workers in a state of uncertainty and instability, knowing they may be hired and fired as needed.
With the introduction of Freedom of movement, the reserve army became internationalised, it ceased to be necessarily located in the same country as the capitalists who use it, and the pool of cheap labour exploited by the member states was increasingly drawn from the countries which had been underdeveloped and oppressed during the decline of the soviet union and the introduction of capitalism from western EU economies greedy for cheap labour.
Now that tap has been turned off the government have a choice they can invest in training and protection of workers or suffer the continued shortages that the lack of skilled workers brings.
At a time when technology is changing demand for different kinds of skills, and evolving patterns of work mean that people are more likely to pursue several careers during their working lives, it is crucial that our education system enables people to upskill and retrain over their lifetimes. As part of our dynamic industrial strategy, lifelong education and vocational training deliver productivity and growth to the whole economy while transforming the lives of individuals and communities.
Governments work for the people, they have a responsibility to the people! Providing vocational training through University technical colleges while giving access to the agencies that can provide the skills required to help support them and their families would be the biggest step in introducing any form of levelling up post-Brexit.
The economic needs of the country are rapidly changing. If the government is serious about levelling up it must make lifelong learning a reality, by giving everyone the opportunity to access education throughout their lives and importantly vocational training must be a major part of that commitment.
Vocational training colleges are the way forward, we can not all be computer programmers, neither do we all have the temperament to grace the halls of academia. In the 21st century, we need to stop relying on other countries to train our tradespeople and playing the brain drain game. Only by investing in the working class can job shortages be filled. There also has to be an easier method of creating opportunities for people to relearn and retrain while entering and leaving the job market more fluidly.
Elliot as normal has a full grasp of the issue and understands what many middle-class Remainers refused to accept about how migration on such scale really does push down wages, maybe not their wages but more than definitely the Amazon driver delivering your latest must-have. There has been much academic work done into the impact of migration on wages in the UK. The evidence is that where workers from overseas complement home-grown workers, they boost earnings. This tends to benefit those at the top end of the income scale.
It is a different story at the other end of the labour market, because wages are held down when migrant workers compete with domestic workers. The competition tends to be greatest in low-paid jobs, such as hospitality and social care.
That is not quite the end of the story, because increasing the supply of overseas workers also boosts demand. The new employees are also consumers and spend the money they earn like everybody else. The extra demand creates more jobs, although mainly in low-paid sectors.
Against this backdrop, it is perhaps unsurprising that Brexit divided the nation in the way it did. If you were in a relatively well-paid job and not at risk of being replaced or undercut by a worker from overseas, you were likely to vote remain. The Polish plumber was cheaper, the Lithuanian nanny was better educated, so what was not to like?
If, on the other hand, you were part of Britain’s casualised workforce, needing two or more part-time jobs to get by, you were much more likely to vote leave, on the grounds that tougher controls on migration would lead to a tighter labour market, which in turn would push up wages.