The British government is being pressured to introduce work visas for truck drivers from continental Europe. Shortages of truck drivers are widespread in many developed economies but in the UK, the problem seems to be particularly acute.
A highly developed logistics sector combined with what are now very large e-retail operations have heightened demand for truck drivers. This has led to pressure on the British government from many road haulage operators and users to make truck driving a ‘shortage occupation’ enabling work visas to be issued. The government has denied that it is considering this, saying that the changed labour conditions were made clear to the road haulage sector when the UK left the European Union. Nonetheless, the rumours persist.
Rather the government has responded to complaints of driver shortages by extending the hours drivers can work. Surprisingly, this has not made the industry happy. The Chief Executive of the Road Haulage Association said that his organisation opposed the “wholesale extensions to drivers’ hours as we believe they can be counter-productive by making the job less attractive. Loading more hours on to drivers that are already exhausted is not the answer”.
The UK was much more open to foreign drivers than most other European economies in the 1990s, with a more dynamic labour market and opposed to the sorts of constraints through regulation common in continental Europe. The result was a huge rise in the proportion of drivers from central Europe, many of them working for trucking companies based in Central Europe acting as sub-contractors. The effect on the labour was considerable, with demand for British drivers suppressed.
Judging by the reaction of much of the industry, there is a reluctance to let go of this practice of importing drivers from continental Europe and the lower wage rates that go with it. One potential alternative is that UK-based drivers would experience higher wages, drawing labour into the sector. This of course would mean higher costs and higher rates for both logistics service providers and shippers, but it is unclear if this would suppress demand for road freight, demand which at present seems strong. Perhaps there is an understandable nervousness about moving to a different business model.
Source: Foundation for Future Supply Chain, July 27, 2021
Author: Thomas Cullen