The Labour Party has urged the Conservative government to relax UK immigration rules amid a growing shortage of lorry drivers. The Home Office is under increasing pressure to ease UK immigration restrictions as haulage industry leaders warn that the driver shortage is ‘getting worse’.
Labour ministers recently called on the government to ‘let overseas workers help make up the shortfall in HGV drivers’. Shadow minister, Kerry McCarthy, told PoliticsHome: “We need action now.”
According to industry leaders, the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit have created the ‘perfect storm’ for HGV driver shortages, which has put a huge strain on Britain’s food supply chain as the country emerges from lockdown.
Industry leaders say that many lorry drivers have retired or switched jobs during the pandemic, with many opting to join online delivery companies. Meanwhile, many non-UK drivers decided to return home amid the pandemic and have struggled to return following the launch of the government’s post-Brexit UK immigration system.
The number of drivers forced to isolate during the summer because of ‘COVID contact’ has also contributed significantly to the trucker shortage. Amid the disruption, social media has been flooded with images of empty supermarket shelves.
Meanwhile, there are increasing labour shortages across other areas of the supply chain, especially in the agricultural and farming industry, where a lack of pickers and packers mean that crops are going unpicked, leaving supermarkets short of fruit and vegetables.
A number of industry groups are urging the government to take action to ease the HGV driver shortage crisis in the short-term by adding overseas drivers to the shortage occupation list, which provides an easier pathway to a UK work visa.
Get a grip
McCarthy said: “The government’s inability to get a grip on this situation threatens businesses and consumers, who are already seeing empty shelves in the shops this summer. British businesses can’t afford to wait until 2022 for the government to deliver enough driving tests for hauliers – we need action now.”
“They should have recognised these risks and planned far better, having been warned time and again by the industry. The government has missed opportunities to work with the Migration Advisory Committee to plan for this. That must be urgently addressed,” McCarthy added.
However, the government has snubbed calls to allow more foreign drivers into the UK.
A letter sent by UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, to Labour ministers said that he was ‘personally opposed to foreign workers being used to tackle HGV driver shortages’.
New UK immigration system
Shapps, whose letter was addressed to Shadow Roads Minister McCarthy, Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, and Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon, wrote: “Leaving the EU has provided us with the opportunity to introduce a new immigration system while building a more resilient domestic workforce.”
“I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising our domestic workforce and supporting the many UK-based workers who now face an uncertain future due to the impact of the measures to tackle COVID-19 and need to find new employment opportunities,” Shapps added.
A spokesperson for the government told PoliticsHome: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.”
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