UNITED KINGDOM: A shortage of truck drivers in the U.K has led to empty shelves in British supermarkets. A senior supermarket chain boss has warned that the U.K. government must allow retailers to recruit HGV drivers abroad to avoid a supply chain crisis that could ruin Christmas.
Richard Walker, Iceland’s managing director, said the U.K. faced a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers that were already cancelling 30-40 deliveries to its stores daily and would upend plans to begin building Christmas stock from next month.
“We’ve got Christmas around the corner, and in retail, we start to stock build really from September onwards, for what is a hugely important time of year,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The HGV driver shortage had caused cancelled orders for fast-moving food products such as bread at about 100 Iceland stores, with soft drinks deliveries falling 50% by volume, Walker said.
The lorry driver dearth has also led to disruption across the U.K.’s fast food sector — milkshakes were cut from the menu at McDonald’s, shortage of chicken led to about 50 restaurants of Nando’s shut.
Walker said the shortfall in lorry drivers was not “an inevitable consequence” of post-Brexit EU immigration rules but a “self-inflicted wound” created by the “government’s failure to appreciate the importance of HGV drivers and the work they do for us”.
He said: “The simple solution is that HGV lorry drivers need to be added to the essential and skilled worker list, like other professions such as ballerinas. These HGV drivers have kept the show on the road for 18 months during the pandemic and it’s criminal that we’re not viewing them as skilled workers.”
An exhausted and ageing workforce
For those who wanted the U.K. to remain in the EU, it feels like a moment to say: “We told you so, Brexit was a disaster.” But that misses the point. The empty shelves are a visible message from a workforce that’s usually invisible. They tell a story about what’s gone wrong in this corner of the 21st-century economy, not just in the U.K.
Lorry drivers work for long unpredictable hours, exhausting themselves and have been facing a particular pay squeeze in the past five years, slipping down the wage ladder.
“Why would I want to be a truck driver, with all the responsibility, the long, unpredictable hours, if I can go to Aldi and earn £11.30 an hour stacking shelves?” says Tomasz Oryński, a truck driver and journalist based in Scotland.
Kieran Smith, chief executive of Driver Require, a recruitment agency, says lots of drivers leave in their 30s because the hours make it almost impossible to participate in bringing up children, yet the wage isn’t high enough to support the other partner staying at home