Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to business leaders on Friday pushing back calls for looser post-Brexit immigration rules to address the shortage of carriers, saying foreign labor does not offer than a “short-term, temporary fix”.
With the leave scheme ending September 30, Kwarteng instead urged employers to help ‘the many UK-based workers [who] are now facing an uncertain future and need to find new job opportunities ”.
Office for National Statistics surveys suggest as many as 2 million people were still partially or fully on leave from the government’s job retention program in early August, some of whom may soon be looking for work. .
Chancellor Rishi Sunak also wants to ensure that job opportunities will be available when the leave program ends on September 30. “The labor market is still recovering,” a government official said.
A shortage of truck drivers, in part caused by Brexit immigration rules and the departure of Britons from the industry, has affected the supply of supermarkets and restaurants. The disruption was amplified by understaffing among food manufacturers and warehouse operators.
McDonald’s removed milkshakes from its menu this month, Nando’s ran out of chicken, and some supermarkets have warned of the risk of shortages as Christmas approaches.
Industry leaders have called on ministers to add heavy truck drivers to the government’s list of shortage occupations, which would allow foreign carriers to obtain an exemption from post-Brexit immigration rules.
But Kwarteng said in a letter to the British Retail Consortium and Logistics UK – seen by the Financial Times – that it would only be a short-term solution.
He welcomed the measures taken by employers to use “new training programs, recruitment incentives, higher wages and better working conditions” to tackle the shortage of heavy truck drivers.
Kwarteng also highlighted the government’s work in areas such as training, apprenticeship and heavy-duty driver license reforms to address the issue, but he took a hard line against looser immigration rules. .
“I am sure you will agree on the importance of using the strength of our national workforce and how our migration policies should be viewed alongside our strategies to ensure that UK based workers are better able to get decent job opportunities, ”he wrote in the letter.
The National Farmers Union and the Food and Drink Federation on Friday urged ministers to introduce a 12-month ‘Covid recovery visa’ to fill short-term vacancies, including for heavy truck drivers.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the federation, predicted that food inflation would rise between 6 and 9 percent in the fall, as rising wages and supply chain constraints spill over to rising prices. .
The CBI wants butchers, construction workers, engineers and computer scientists to be added to the list of professions in tension exempt from the usual immigration rules.
But Home Secretary Priti Patel is firmly resisting pressure to propose from April 2022 a review by the Independent Advisory Committee on Migration of jobs that should be on the list.
Ministers underlined that Europe as a whole is experiencing a shortage of truck drivers.
But while they currently resist more immigration, that has not been completely ruled out. A government official said ministers will not ease immigration rules for carriers “just yet”.
Another said ministers wanted to see how the outcome of the leave regime would unfold. “It’s not your usual shortage in the job market,” the official added.
Kwarteng’s commercial department is trying to establish the extent of labor shortages; its officials spoke to 60 professional organizations on Thursday.
Work is also underway at the Treasury to assess the extent to which the issue is structural rather than cyclical.
Labor spokesman Ed Miliband accused the government of being “asleep at work” by failing to prepare for labor shortages, but did not advocate increased immigration to the ‘EU to solve the problem.
“Rather than blaming and blaming companies, ministers must take urgent action to recruit and train workers to fill the current gaps,” he said.