Long lines of cars at petrol stations across the UK illustrated the fears of the British population this weekend: that of a supply crisis triggered by a shortage of truck drivers.
The UK transport industry has been hit in recent months by the lack of heavy vehicle drivers, which negatively impacted the fuel supply chain across the country, and prompted the government to announce measures to mitigate the problem.
- UK to grant visas to circumvent labor shortages
- New York must turn to National Guard to replace unvaccinated health workers
Consumers in the UK have also reported empty shelves in several establishments due to the interruption of delivery. Some companies, notably large supermarket chains, have already admitted the lack of some products.
The truck driver crisis is due to a combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit (UK exit from the European Union) and other factors.
The Logistics UK association estimates it needs around 90,000 heavy vehicle drivers, attributing scarcity to the pandemic, fiscal changes, Brexit, an aging workforce, low wages and poor working conditions.
Last week, the oil company British Petroleum (BP) announced that it was forced to “temporarily” close some of its stations due to lack of fuel.
Other operators linked to oil company Esso also confirmed that a “small number” of their gas stations were affected.
This Sunday morning (26/9), there were reports of dozens of cars waiting in lines in London, and several gas stations with signs saying they had no more fuel.
On the other hand, there are stations that claim to be receiving supplies and operating normally.
Station in the city of Bracknell, England, displayed a warning that it has no more fuel — Photo: Steve Parsons/PA via AP
The British government says there is no shortage of gasoline, and that the problems with the supply of fuel boil down to the rush to buy caused by the panic of the population.
“There is no shortage of fuel” and people should be “sensible” and only refuel when they need it, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme.
Shapps said it was introducing a “big package” of measures, including temporary visas for lorry drivers, to help the situation.
The measure aims to attract drivers from European Union countries that would have stopped entering the United Kingdom because of the bureaucracy introduced as an effect of the so-called Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The requirement of customs paperwork created by Brexit made the trip more time consuming, increasing the cost of transportation.
The British transport secretary said he didn’t want to “harm” the country’s workers, but couldn’t stand by while the lines formed.
In addition, he said that the situation would recover, because, unlike the shortage of toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, when there was another rush of panicked people fearing that there would be a shortage of product, the fuel is difficult to store.
Gas station in Leicester, England, had long lines on Saturday (25) — Photo: Mike Egerton//PA via AP
To prevent possible disruptions in the run-up to Christmas, the government package provides that up to 10,500 truck drivers and poultry workers will be able to receive temporary visas to the UK.
The government has confirmed that 5,000 truck drivers will be able to work in the UK for three months, until Christmas Eve, in addition to 5,500 poultry workers.
But the British Chamber of Commerce said the measures were tantamount to “throwing a thimble of water into the fire”.
Marc Fels, director of a heavy vehicle driver recruitment center, said visas for truck drivers were “too low” and came “too late.”
However, the news was well received by the Logistics UK association, which called the policy “a big step forward in solving the disruption of supply chains”.
The British Poultry Council has already warned that it may not have enough manpower to process as many turkeys as it used to this Christmas, as it historically depends on the EU’s workforce.
After Brexit, it became more difficult and expensive to use workers from outside the UK, the group says.
The UK Department of Transport said it recognized that importing foreign labor “will not be the long-term solution” to the problem and that it wants employers to invest to build a “high-wage, high-skilled economy”.