Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has called on companies to hire British workers to address the shortage of truck drivers after rejecting calls to relax visa rules.
Supermarkets and suppliers are struggling to meet demand following an exodus of drivers from EU countries, who returned to the continent during the pandemic and stayed there.
This comes on top of the health crisis that has crippled DVLA testing centers, creating a huge backlog of drivers taking their HGV tests.
A review of the shortage occupations list, which defines the jobs for which foreign workers can apply for visas, is not expected until next year.
It is understood that proposals had been made for the government to advance the review so that heavy truck drivers could be included to alleviate the problems facing the supply chain.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng urged companies to hire UK workers to address truck driver shortage
Supermarkets and suppliers are struggling to meet demand following an exodus of drivers from EU countries. Image: Stock
A review of the shortage occupations list, which defines the jobs for which foreign workers can apply for visas, is not expected until next year. Image: Stock
But according to the Financial Times, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to business leaders on Friday saying that foreign labor offered only a “short-term, temporary solution.”
The newspaper said Mr Kwarteng urged employers to help “the many UK-based workers (who) now face an uncertain future and must find new employment opportunities”.
His letter precedes the UK leave program which ends September 30.
According to the FT, Mr Kwarteng said in his letter to the British Retail Consortium and Logistics UK: “I am sure you will agree on the importance of using the strength of our national workforce and how our migration policies must be considered alongside our strategies. to ensure that UK based workers are better able to secure decent employment opportunities. ‘
Alex Veitch, Managing Director of Public Policy at Logistics UK: “Logistics UK is frustrated with the government’s decision to reject calls from the logistics industry for temporary visas to be made available to truck drivers in the UK. ‘EU as a short-term solution while new national drivers are recruited, trained and tested.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng urged companies to hire UK workers to address truck driver shortage after rejecting calls to relax visa rules (file image)
Shelves have been left bare in many supermarkets across the country due to a lack of delivery drivers (file image)
“As these new domestic drivers are trained and qualified to enter the workforce, which can take up to nine months, and DVSA resolves its backlog of outstanding heavy truck driving tests – which we believe , could last until early 2022 – temporary visas are made available to European workers. would help overcome current supply chain issues across the country.
“The industry needs drivers now, and we have urged the government to replicate its temporary visa program, introduced for agricultural workers, for logistics to keep trucks and vans moving in the short term. “
A government spokesperson said: “We have a very resilient food supply chain and well-established ways of working with the food sector to deal with disruptions in the food supply chain.
“We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the shortage of heavy truck drivers, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to obtain their heavy truck licenses and to increase the number of truck tests. conduct that can be performed.
“However, most solutions are likely to be industry-driven, with progress already made in testing and hiring, and a strong push towards improving wages, working conditions and diversity. .
“We want employers to invest for the long term in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on foreign labor and our jobs plan is helping people across the country to retrain, to learn new skills and return to work. “
Several government departments liaise on supply chain issues, including the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Labor. and Pensions.
Home Ministry officials are reportedly blocking the ongoing review, fearing it could lead other sectors to demand inclusion.
Several government departments are liaising on supply chain issues. Pictured: Empty carts of fresh milk at Sainsbury’s, North London
Home Ministry officials are reportedly blocking the ongoing review, fearing it could lead other sectors to demand inclusion. Pictured: Bare shelves in a central London supermarket, Britain
A source told PA: “This has been proposed and seems to be the obvious solution, but there has been a lot of reluctance from the Home Office. “
HGV drivers are currently not included on the list, but supermarkets are pushing to include them to reduce the shortfall as more UK drivers are trained.
The current average age of a heavy truck driver in the UK is 55 and ministers fear an aging workforce needs to be replaced.
Government officials are working closely with the DVLA to increase the number of tests performed and are committed to streamlining the process.
They have also increased funding for apprentices to attract more workers into the industry, but want to ensure the UK is less dependent on foreign drivers.
The shortages affected several retailers and restaurant chains.
Nando’s has experienced a shortage of chickens due to a lack of drivers and fewer staff working in the meat factories.
Further delays also impacted McDonald’s, which said this week it was out of milkshakes and bottled drinks as it prioritized other deliveries in the meantime.
Food industry organizations have recommended a 12-month Covid-19 recovery visa to help companies recruit staff such as truck drivers, and an expanded seasonal worker program for the horticulture sector.
National Farmers Union Vice President Tom Bradshaw said it was “simplistic” to say that ending the government holiday scheme would mean more workers to fill the high number of vacancies.
Further delays also impacted McDonald’s, which said this week it was out of milkshakes and bottled drinks as it prioritized other deliveries in the meantime. Image: Stock