Logistics UK has urged the government to replicate its Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme for the logistics sector and prioritise the granting of 10,000 temporary work visas to EU drivers.
The scheme permits up to 30,000 individuals to come to the UK on a so-called T5 visa to work in agriculture for up to six months.
The latest ONS Labour Force Survey Q2 for Logistics UK by independent research company Repgraph reveals that 14,000 EU HGV drivers left employment in the UK in the year to June 2020, and only 600 have returned in the past year (by Q2 2021).
Alex Veitch, general manager of public policy at Logistics UK, said their departure had left a “gaping hole in the workforce” which needs a short-term solution to protect the UK economy
“The EU workers who left the UK in the year ending June 2020, ahead of Brexit, were critical to the supply chain’s resilience,” he explained, “and we are now starting to see the impact that their departure has had on supplies to businesses, retailers, homes and schools.
“The industry is working hard to recruit new drivers, with the implementation of new apprenticeships and other training schemes, and working with DVSA to speed up its testing regime, but these measures will take some time to produce new drivers. Our industry needs drivers now, and we are urging government to replicate its temporary visa scheme, introduced for agricultural workers, for logistics to keep trucks and vans moving in the short term.”
Eight different short-term work visa schemes are in place, including for creative, sports and religious employees, as well as seasonal workers. None of these can be used for HGV drivers.
“Logistics is facing a long term shortage of staff, which has been made much worse by the loss of our EU workforce,” Veitch continued. “While we wait for new recruits to complete their training, which can take up to nine months, the logical solution would be to introduce a temporary visa scheme to keep the vehicles moving. After all, there is no point in picking and packing food if there is no one available to move it to buyers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of maintaining essential services as the backbone to any functioning society and economy. Add to this the complexities of Brexit and the growing significance of the digital economy, and the result is a perfect storm for logistics in Northern Ireland which is leading to a dramatic shortage of drivers.
This shortfall, currently numbering at 5,000 drivers in Northern Ireland, is keenly felt by many industries but none more so than the waste sector which is unique in that it provides an essential service to all businesses and households alike.
As Northern Ireland’s leading waste management provider, RiverRidge relies heavily on its drivers as the backbone of the service it provides to local councils and commercial customers – which involves not only the transportation of waste but also the collection and removal of waste for treatment. The process involves some manual handling in the moving of bins to their vehicles for offloading.
In recent years, huge progress has been made by the industry to reduce the reliance on landfill, increase recycling rates and improve the carbon intensity of waste processing – all important contributors of Northern Ireland’s zero-carbon aspirations. However, the crisis in availability of qualified drivers is threatening to erode these environmental gains due to the inevitable constraints in waste collection capability.
The supply shortage has also put upward pressure on cost, with RiverRidge seeing unprecedented wage inflation for its drivers which will inevitably lead to higher costs for customers.
According to Brett Ross, CEO of RiverRidge “To say that we have reached a crisis point regarding the availability of drivers is no exaggeration. If this situation persists, it will severely impact the enormous gains we have worked hard to achieve at RiverRidge with regard to environmental performance, customer service and pricing, never mind the unimaginable repercussions if waste cannot be collected.”
He added, “That is why we are calling on Government to act swiftly and decisively to implement three short and medium-term remedies, which we believe will go a long way in addressing this crisis. These are;
- Address the current delay in turnaround times for driver testing to allow unqualified drivers achieve their professional licence at an accelerated pace.
- Grant temporary work visas to EU HGV Drivers.
- Introduce an incentive scheme to attract younger people into a career as a professional driver.”
RiverRidge is urgently seeking qualified drivers to join its team. Brett Ross concluded by saying, “There has never been a better time to join Northern Ireland’s leading waste management company where you are guaranteed a highly competitive salary, retention bonus and benefits. You will also enjoy other work/life benefits such as stable hours, local work and career development. Above all, we prioritise your health and safety by operating to the highest standards in our industry, ensuring the best possible work environment for every member of the RiverRidge family.”