UK ministers grapple with huge shortage of drivers and other key workers which has affected fuel supply
Britain will issue up to 10,500 temporary work visas to truck drivers and poultry workers to alleviate chronic staff shortages, the government said on Saturday in a turnaround in post-Brexit immigration policy .
The short-term visas, valid from next month to the end of December, come as ministers grapple with a huge shortage of drivers and other key workers who have affected fuel supply and other industries.
A shortage of tanker drivers has caused long lines at gas stations in recent days as people ignore government calls not to panic to buy fuel after some garages have closed due to the lack of deliveries.
The move to expand the essential worker visa program is a reversal of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government tightened post-Brexit immigration rules by insisting Britain’s dependence on -vis of foreign labor must cease.
It had resisted the move for months, despite an estimated shortage of around 100,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers and warnings from various sectors that supplies would be insufficient.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, however, insisted he was taking action “at the earliest opportunity” and that a wider package of measures announced would ensure pre-Christmas preparations “remain on track.”
“Industries must also play their part with working conditions which continue to improve and deserved wage increases continue to be maintained so that companies retain new drivers,” he added.
But a business leader called the new measures inadequate.
“This announcement is like throwing a dice of water on a bonfire,” said Ruby McGregor-Smith, President of the British Chambers of Commerce.
The additional tests would take time to have an impact as the new visa numbers were “insufficient” and not “sufficient to cope with the scale of the problem,” she added.
The new measures will focus on rapidly increasing the number of new domestic drivers and will include the deployment of Department of Defense driving examiners to help deliver thousands of additional tests over the next 12 weeks.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education and partner agencies will spend millions of pounds to train 4,000 people to become truck drivers, creating new ‘skills training camps’ to speed up the process.
Almost a million letters will also be sent to all drivers currently holding a heavy truck license, asking those who are not currently driving to return to work.
Johnson has come under increasing pressure to act, after the pandemic and Brexit combined to worsen the carrier shortage and other crises emerged, including escalating energy prices.
In addition to threatening timely fuel supplies, the shortage of truck drivers has hit UK factories, restaurants and supermarkets in recent weeks and months.
U.S. burger chain McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes and bottled drinks last month, fast food giant KFC was forced to remove some items from its menu, while restaurant chain Nando’s temporarily closed dozens of outlets due to a lack of chicken.
Supermarkets are also feeling the heat, with frozen food group Iceland and retail king Tesco warning of a shortage of Christmas products.
This week it was the turn of the fuels sector, with more and more lines of cars blocking the approaches to gas stations following closures and panic buying, especially in the southeast of England.
Drivers seemed less than reassured on Saturday, as queues again formed for fuel.
Mike Davey, 56, had been waiting for more than half an hour to refuel at a gas station run by the supermarket chain Tesco in Kent, south-east London.
âI just want to have fuel to get to work. People are like filling jerry cans, it’s ridiculous, âhe told AFP.
âMaybe they need to bring in some army drivers,â Davey added.
The government has so far resisted calls to deploy troops to help deliver gasoline directly.
As part of the announced measures, taxpayers will also help pay for some adult heavy truck permit applications over the next academic year – which can cost thousands of pounds – through an adult education budget fund.