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UK Trucker Shortage Begins to Impact Ports, Gas Stations and Grocers

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File image courtesy Port of Dover

Published Aug 30, 2021 9:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The United Kingdom has a significant shortage of truckers, and it is beginning to impact port interests, according to the British Ports Association. "The lack of haulage capacity has contributed to inefficiencies across the supply chain. We are seeing increased wait times at ports," said Richard Ballantyne, the chief executive of the BPA, in a statement last week. "The shortages pushes up costs and puts suppliers under more pressure."

According to the Road Hauliers Association, Britain has a shortage of about 100,000 truck drivers - about one-sixth of the pre-pandemic haulier workforce. In response, BPA, Logistics UK and the hauliers association are calling for immediate government action to increase the availability of foreign nationals from Eastern Europe. A combination of Brexit work visa changes, self-employment tax increases and persistent quality of life issues have made the UK a less attractive place for European truckers to drive, according to Logistics UK, and thousands of them are choosing to live and work closer to home.

"As many have warned, Covid and Brexit have obviously contributed to haulier shortages and we are very supportive of the haulage industry’s calls for a review of the post Brexit immigration rules for European based HGV drivers," Ballantyne said. "Action is needed now, particularly ahead of the introduction of new enforcement controls for imports in January which could add more pressures on the supply chain."

UK hauliers have been complaining about workforce shortages for years, much like their American counterparts, but the combination of Britain's exit from the EU and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the problem. Brexit cut off recruitment of drivers from EU countries on January 1, 2021, leaving the UK dependent upon its own labor pool. The UK's immigration regulations do not classify truck drivers as high-skilled workers, and they are not eligible for immigrant work visas. Many self-employed contract truckers from Europe returned home during the pandemic, and with a recent tax change that reduces their net pay, thousands have decided not to come back.

Haulier-related delays and disruptions have been reported since the spring, but the shortages can now be seen at the retail level. McDonald's has had to suspend the sale of milkshakes because it cannot get the needed supplies to its restaurants; BP has suspended gas and diesel sales at some of its gas stations; dairy producer Arla says that it is canceling about 25 percent of its shipments; and the supermarket chain Iceland said that it is experiencing 30-40 canceled deliveries per day because of insufficient trucking capacity. 

"The driver shortage is impacting the food supply chain on a daily basis and leading to shortages on the shelves," Iceland CEO Richard Walker told the BBC.

To address the problem, Logistics UK is urging the British government to make 10,000 seasonal visas available for foreign drivers. However, the administration of Prime Minister Boris Johnson - who supported the Brexit referendum and finalized the details of closing Britain's borders with Europe - has been reluctant to allow European labor to compete with British nationals for work. Instead, the government says that it is focused on increasing the availability of driver testing for UK nationals who would like to work in trucking.