Chicken, milkshakes, sweets: rare in Britain's trucker shortage

Across Britain, a slow-burning problem has escalated into a supply chain crisis in recent weeks as restaurants, supermarkets and food ma...


Across Britain, a slow-burning problem has escalated into a supply chain crisis in recent weeks as restaurants, supermarkets and food manufacturers have warned customers that some popular products may be temporarily unavailable due to a shortage of truck drivers.

McDonald’s milkshakes, Nando’s chicken, Haribo candy and supermarket milk are among the items that have become scarce in Britain over the summer. But it goes way beyond food: almost every industry complains about delivery issues. And organizations are already warning that logistical problems could upset the arrival of Christmas toys and essential toppings to family vacation meals.

A long-standing shortage of truck drivers has been exacerbated by a post-Brexit exodus of workers from the European Union. Adding to the problem is disruption in training for new drivers due to the pandemic. And for years, the trucking industry has struggled to attract new workers to a traditionally low-paying job requiring long, exhausting hours of work.

“Ninety-five percent of everything we get in Britain comes in the back of a truck,” said Rod McKenzie, policy director for the Road Haulage Association, which represents the UK’s fuel industry. road transport, and estimates that 100,000 drivers are missing. “So if there aren’t enough trucks to go around – and we have reports of big companies with about 100 trucks parked at a time – there is simply less cargo being delivered. “

Earlier in the summer, the German candy company Haribo said he was struggling to get his sweets into UK stores. Arla, a large dairy farmer, said he had to jump up to a quarter of his deliveries. Last week, Nando’s, the popular restaurant chain, has had to close about 50 of its restaurants due to a shortage of its famous peri-peri chicken. This week Greggs, a take-out coffee and lunch, and Costa, a coffee shop chain, were the latest to suffer from product shortages due to supply chain disruptions.

Delivery issues force other businesses to sort through what they are selling. Mcdonalds removed milkshakes and bottled drinks from the menu this week, allowing it to focus on serving burgers and fries.

UK buyers should expect to see even more companies narrowing their product options and prioritizing their best-selling items, Mr McKenzie said.

In some cases, the disruptions were compounded by staff shortages. A major British poultry producer, Food Group 2 Sisters, said Brexit had contributed to a 15% reduction in its workforce this year. The British Meat Processors Association recently warned that companies are six weeks behind their Christmas production schedules, almost guaranteeing shortages of popular items during the holidays.

The group also said its problems were compounded by retailers poaching their truck drivers with wage premiums.

Iceland, a large supermarket chain, is sounding the alarm bells about Christmas. He said retailers should build their inventory from September, but instead the shelves are now emptying. Richard Walker, chief executive, said the company was short of 100 full-time drivers.

“It impacts the food supply chain on a daily basis,” Walker told the BBC. “We have had deliveries canceled for the first time since the start of the pandemic – around 30 to 40 deliveries per day. “

The United States also faces a shortage of truck drivers; the crisis is similar in that it has been brewing for years as trucking companies have failed to attract young workers. In Britain, the average age of a truck driver is almost 50. Six years ago, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport said only 2% of drivers were under 25 and that by 2022 the industry would need 1.2 million more. workers.

Then, after the 2016 Brexit referendum, the value of the British pound collapsed, making it less lucrative for mainland Europeans – including truck drivers – to work in Britain, prompting some to return to their countries. original. This trend was aggravated by the pandemic, while many wanted to be closer to their families.

When Britain took the final step by leaving the European Union at the end of last year, it meant drivers from mainland Europe could no longer be employed short-term and easily in Britain.

“Until December, there would never have been a labor shortage because, as soon as there was a sign of it, a company could speak to its agency in Poland or elsewhere and send people to it. Said David Henig, a business expert at the European Center for International Political Economy, a research institute.

Likewise, Brexit has complicated the work of British drivers who travel internationally because of the new documents needed to transport loads to countries such as France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

And more roadblocks are arriving as Britain gradually introduces checks on food and other goods entering the country from mainland Europe later in the year (so far these checks have only been carried out only on items exported to the European Union).

Britain’s transport and logistics industries have pleaded with the government to ease visa restrictions for EU drivers. Logistics UK, a trade group, is asking the government to create 10,000 seasonal visas (similar to a program for agricultural workers) for drivers.

To alleviate the shortage, the government has increased the number of hours drivers work per day and offered initiatives to recruit new drivers, but has resisted pressure to relax visa rules for European truck drivers.

“I don’t think the government wants to go: if it grants concessions on truck drivers, there are other demands that will follow,” Henig said. There is also no significant political pressure to give in because the opposition Labor Party, which tries to bring back pro-Brexit voters, is careful not to criticize Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. .

Efforts to fill those jobs with new UK drivers have been hampered as for much of the past year pandemic lockdowns prevented driving tests from being held. The Road Haulage Association estimates that as many as 40,000 tests have not been performed. Training a new driver takes up to six months.

Employers responded by raising wages and offering signing bonuses. Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain, is offering bonuses of £ 1,000 to drivers who sign up before the end of September and further pay increases for another six months.

“It’s definitely an undervalued profession,” said Alex Veitch, Managing Director of Public Policy at Logistics UK, both in terms of pay and appreciation for its crucial role in sourcing basic necessities. and the pressure to do the job safely. “This is bound to change. “

Working conditions were also at the center of complaints from drivers. The work involves long, sometimes lonely hours, and safe parking spaces and rest areas for truckers can be difficult to find. The challenges for truckers were tough last year when thousands of drivers across southern England spent Christmas camping in the front of their trucks after the The French government closed the border in a failed attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It then took days to clear the backlog.

Mr McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association joined others in predicting that the issues would disrupt Christmas deliveries again. The problem shows no signs of slowing down.

“It’s just getting worse and worse,” McKenzie said. “No doubt, no question. It’s getting worse and worse week after week.

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