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Truck driver exodus causing shortages in UK

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-09-10 09:15
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Multiple factors, including pandemic and Brexit, have hit haulage companies

Truck drivers from eastern Europe say poor working conditions in the United Kingdom, tax changes and new technology along with the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit have forced them to find work in other countries or quit the job altogether.

Many suppliers in the UK are struggling to meet demand following an exodus of heavy goods vehicle drivers during the pandemic.

The Financial Times said it had spoken to dozens of eastern European truck drivers who used to work in the UK, but have now gone elsewhere on the continent to find employment.

Those quoted in the report said conditions in the UK had become unbearable during the pandemic, which, along with the other factors, has left the country at least 90,000 truck drivers short.

Drivers told the paper that a UK tax reform, known as IR35, is preventing them from operating as limited companies, which results in a significant cut to their wages.

Britain is not the only nation struggling with a shortage of drivers and supply chain issues. Europe as a whole is short of truckers, the chief executive of one of eastern Europe's largest hauliers told the FT.

"It is a global driver shortage across Europe, not an isolated problem of one country," said Zsolt Barna, chief of Waberer's, a logistics company based in Budapest.

Trade leaders in the UK want the government to put heavy goods vehicle drivers on its shortage occupation list, which would then give foreign hauliers an exemption from post-Brexit immigration rules.

Two of the UK's biggest business groups, Logistics UK and the British Retail Consortium, last month wrote a joint letter to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to urge the government to overcome the problem and protect the supply chain. They said temporary visas for truck drivers from the European Union would be a short-term solution, while new domestic drivers are recruited, trained and tested.

According to the groups, which together represent more than 23,000 members nationwide, "retail and logistics industries are taking proactive measures to address the driver shortage, including increasing pay rates, offering bonuses, and implementing internal training programs", but they say the government must do more.

They predicted the crisis will worsen as demand for goods increases with the new school year having started, businesses returning to workplaces post-COVID-19 restrictions, and the build-up to Christmas being the peak time for logistics movements.

The UK government has said it wants employers to invest in local workers rather than relying on overseas labor.

Last month, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to business leaders saying foreign labor only offered "a short-term, temporary solution" and urged employers to help the "many UK-based workers (who) now face an uncertain future and need to find new employment opportunities".

The way goods move across borders and through the supply chain has changed, and the government must adapt, say the trade bodies.

In their joint letter, the groups insisted that the government must take immediate action.

The groups said: "The current shortfall of around 90,000 HGV drivers is placing unsustainable pressure on retailers and their supply chains. While there was a shortage of HGV drivers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, these two events have exacerbated the situation; the pandemic halted driver training and testing for more than 12 months, while an estimated 14,000 EU drivers returned home during the pandemic and following the end of the (Brexit) transition period."

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