Looming lorry driver gap in Europe undermines UK appeals – POLITICO



The shortage of truck drivers is not just a UK problem.

This adds to the difficulties of the UK government’s emergency efforts to save the country from supply chain chaos by offering European truckers short-term visas.

Gas stations across the UK run out of fuel after the supply crisis led to panic buying – adding to empty supermarket shelves a drought of McDonald’s milkshake, missing peri-peri chicken and shortages of blood testing equipment. Much of the blame is attributed to the sudden exit of thousands of foreign drivers due to Brexit and the pandemic, as well as a backlog in driving tests.

This prompted the UK government over the weekend to offer 5,000 temporary work visas to drivers – who could work in Britain until December 24 and, after delivering Christmas, would then have to return home.

But the announcement did not generate much enthusiasm on the continent.

“The EU workers we are talking to will not be going to the UK on a short term visa to help the UK out of the shit they themselves created,” said Edwin Atema from the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions to BBC Radio 4. “Drivers need more than a visa and a payslip.”

The EU is grappling with a shortage of drivers. The problem existed in both the UK and the EU even before the pandemic – in 2019, around 24% of truck driver positions were unfilled in the UK, while 22% were in Poland, according to the International Road Transport Organization (IRU). In the Czech Republic, 21% were not provided; in Spain, 20 percent.

The lockdowns caused more chaos, with many drivers initially forced to quit their jobs, leaving the industry to scramble to fill jobs as economies reopened.

This risks making an already bad situation worse. Grueling working conditions mean the sector struggles to attract young workers, which creates problems when large numbers of truckers start to retire. With the average age of a European truck driver at 44, it’s not that far in the future.

“If the conditions causing the driver shortage are not properly addressed … [the situation] will deteriorate, ”said Raluca Marian, IRU EU Advocacy Director.

It is “easy to calculate a doomsday scenario” for the EU based on what is happening in the UK, she added.

The threatened species

The perfect storm causing massive shortages across the Channel is, in many ways, unique to the UK

The UK trucking industry has relied on thousands of EU drivers, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, who returned home during the pandemic and many were unable to return to a UK post -Brexit Tax changes affecting the income of self-employed drivers have also made the prospect even less attractive.

But truckers also cite worsening conditions and what they describe as disrespect as reasons for leaving the profession.

“Basically… the drivers are exhausted, they are tired and fed up with being treated the way they are,” said Adrian Jones, national manager of UK and Irish union Unite.

A similar dynamic is pulling workers away from the EU.

“This job is not attractive,” said Pantelimon Octavian Tetileanu, a long-haul trucker from Romania. “You can’t be with your family. There is no time for lunch, not for breakfast or for dinner. You fall asleep in a sweat because we don’t shower on the highway. every day. You don’t wash your clothes. You are mostly dirty and you smell. “

Security concerns also make work dangerous, he added, citing attacks by migrants trying to get to Britain and fueling theft as major concerns.

Tetileanu, a former teacher, has driven a truck for the past decade. Now he is counting the days until he can exit the trade. “I’m doing this job for another two years, and bye bye industry – bye. This is not a place I want to grow old.”

Increasingly, the only people willing to put up with worsening conditions are drivers coming from outside the EU, including Russia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, said Cristina Tilling, political secretary of the EU. ETF transport workers federation.

The problem starts with the rates that road freight companies charge for their services, she said, which are not high enough to cover “a legal labor cost”, including wages and salaries. accommodation of the driver.

Finding fixes

As drivers like Tetileanu seek to resign or retire, the industry is under increasing pressure to renew its workforce. But it’s a real struggle to find new pilots.

Transport companies cite the poor image of the sector, regulatory hurdles and high training costs as a barrier to attracting new hires, especially among women, migrants and young people who they believe represent a resource. untapped.

Hegelmann Poland has set up its own training program and is committed to covering the license fees of new drivers and guaranteeing them a job. He also promises to help Ukrainians and Belarusians complete the necessary paperwork to work legally in Poland, which is short of around 120,000 drivers.

Benny Smets, CEO of Belgian transport company Ninatrans, which also has branches in France, the Netherlands and Germany, said it had become “much more difficult” to fill vacancies. With the shortage leaving some trucks unmanned, “it has never been worse than today,” he said.

Some Belgian companies employ foreign drivers, he said, but “the pool of Romanian drivers is also gradually drying up”.

The situation may not be as bad as in the UK, but the shortage of drivers “as it stands is so dire that I think … we will have to say to some customers ‘no'” Smets warned.

Besides improving working conditions, fixes could include lowering the minimum age for driving a truck and creating a single permit to integrate non-EU workers into the bloc’s labor market, said Marian from IRU. Recognizing third country driving licenses is “another way”, she added.

Workers’ groups in industry and transport have also called for more parking areas where drivers can rest safely or access basic services amid reports of theft and violence. The block lacks about 100,000 parking spaces. Less than 3% of existing parking spaces are certified safe and secure.

Ultimately, it’s about making the job more attractive to potential drivers, according to Jones of Unite. This means more pay, better working hours and safe parking spaces, he said.

“We have to face the simple fact that if you talk to a driver now, he wouldn’t recommend his children or others to become a driver,” he said. “And when the existing workforce is not defending their jobs, what chance do you have of getting people to enter the industry?”

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