With empty shelves and no workers, covid-19 and Brexit exacerbate UK supply crisis | International

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Since the sad seventies, which led to the arrival of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberalism, it was unusual for consumers in the United Kingdom —which competes with France for the position of Europe’s second-largest economy— to receive apologies for a breach of contract, in the following terms: “Dear customer, the delivery service to your postal code has been suspended for two days so that our warehouse can alleviate the accumulated delay. The increase in demand and the shortage of drivers led to this accumulation”. It was not the first e-mail with these characteristics that reached the account of Daniel Juliá, a Spaniard living in London for decades and who, together with a partner, maintains a hotel material distribution company and another ice distribution company. “For ice distribution we need at least 12 drivers. If any of them fail, I have a serious problem, because it’s very difficult to find a replacement these days.”

Its problem, on a reduced scale, is the same that currently affects the entire United Kingdom, leading the Portuguese restaurant chain Nando’s, specialized in chicken dishes and very popular among the English, to close some of its establishments because it does not have enough material. press enough. McDonald’s also lacks shakes and other bottled drinks, and the Weatherspoon pub chain ran out of some beer brands. Large supermarkets, such as Sainsbury’s, are struggling in recent days to dodge the scarcity of their usual offerings, reflected in the empty aisles. Coca-Cola said its bottlers in England, Scotland and Wales ran out of aluminum cans.

The new Immigration Law, in force since February of last year, further restricted the access of European citizens to the British labor market and coincided with the beginning of a pandemic that forced all efforts to be focused on the survival of companies. Plans to adjust labor needs to the new residency scheme defined between London and the EU, thus allowing the permanence of previously hired workers, were frozen. “Since then, many of our members have described to us a perfect storm that changed their entire transformation process,” says the UK’s Lead Employer CBI. “In addition to the fact that the pandemic has interrupted their ability to prepare and adapt to the new immigration system, it has also led many community workers to leave the country to be closer to their families,” he says.

Trucks with heavy goods at the Cobham Rest Area (UK) on 31 August.
Trucks with heavy goods at the Cobham Rest Area (UK) on 31 August. PETER CZIBORRA / Reuters

And many of those who fled a UK paralyzed for months by the virus — the National Bureau of Statistics estimated them at more than a million over the course of a year — did so without first regularizing their situation. Conclusion: your return has now become a confusing procedure whereby the company must apply for a visa, demonstrate that its needs fit those contemplated by the new Immigration Law, or that the job offer exceeds 185,000 reais per year.

The CBI estimates the UK would need at least 100,000 additional truckers to alleviate growing shortages. And that’s not the only hole. There is a lack of workers capable of handling heavy machinery, as well as short-distance transporters. There is a lack of personnel for the food processing factories, for looking after the cattle and for harvesting fruits, vegetables and flowers. There are no clerks for stores, workers for warehouses, cleaning staff for hotels and offices. Neither carpenters nor electricians; neither mechanical engineers nor workers for assembly units. “The case of companies artificially restricting their capacity because they are unable to meet high demand has come to our attention. This is the case, for example, of hotels that are limiting the number of rooms they book because they do not have enough cleaning staff and cannot have enough laundry service,” says the report prepared by the CBI.

Boris Johnson’s government is reluctant to admit that its main political achievement, Brexit, could cause irremediable damage to the country’s economy, at least in the medium term. The response of the Interior Minister, Priti Patel, with an extremely harsh speech against immigration, is that entrepreneurs strive to train, prepare and hire British citizens. In the case of truck drivers, the license exams, which had taken a long time due to restrictions caused by the pandemic, are now being accelerated. But businessmen’s demand to allow the temporary return of all Romanian, Polish, Portuguese or Spanish drivers who could alleviate a stressful situation that threatens to cause new scenes of empty shelves during the Christmas period was not met.

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“All of this is going to last longer than people believe,” predicts Andrew Sentance, a renowned economist who advises analyst firm Cambridge Econometrics and was an outside consultant for the Bank of England. “The lack of trained workers can go on for years. The impact Brexit has had on our ability to source labor from the EU will remain. And the staff training process was altered by the pandemic, because people were not working and were on paid leave”, continues Sentance.

The UK’s main economic institutions, as well as the major political parties (especially Labour, now in opposition), decided to leave behind the long years of tension over Brexit and treat the decision as a fait accompli. This does not mean that, subtly, they do not continue to point out the negative consequences of the decision to leave the EU. Bank of England President Andrew Bailey — who wrote in a report that tensions in the supply chain and rising prices for some raw materials would ease over time — couldn’t hide his concern about labor shortages. . “Others will have a different opinion, but I can’t help but start worrying about this persistence in the labor market,” Bailey told the House of Commons Economics Committee on Wednesday.

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