On Friday morning, 14 cars were lined up in front of the BP petrol station in London’s Kingston district. They were all waiting to finally get to the pump to fill up again. Who knows how long this will last.
As here in the southwest of the British capital, there were traffic jams outside petrol stations across the country. After all, the warnings in the British newspapers had been hard to miss. The Sun put a last drop of gasoline on its front page, with the headline: “We’re running on empty.” This sentence was almost identical to page 1 of the Daily Mail. And the otherwise rather calm Times conveyed to its readership the advice of the British government: “Don’t panic.”
Do not panic? Well, a lot of Brits preferred to play it safe on Friday. The day before, the oil company BP had announced that at least 50 service stations in the country could not be supplied with gasoline and diesel as usual. Esso also reported issues. It is not because the fuel is running out; the problem is, there aren’t enough truckers to get them to the pumps.
There is a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers across the UK
The shortage of drivers does not only affect gas stations. British supermarkets and restaurants have been complaining about the “driver shortage” for weeks. There are simply not enough people who can get goods from A to B. According to UK transport industry estimates around 100,000 truck drivers are currently missing.
There are all kinds of reasons for this. On the one hand, there is the high average age. Many older drivers retire, too few young people follow because the work is not particularly well paid. On the other hand, there is Corona: many have given up their jobs as truck drivers because of the pandemic; and those who wanted to be could not because the driving schools were closed in confinement. It just wasn’t possible to get a truck driver’s license.
Problems like this exist in many European countries, but in Britain there is another aggravating factor: Brexit. Experts estimate that around 25,000 truck drivers have returned to their home countries since Britain left the EU, mostly to Eastern Europe. How many will come back to the UK is an open question.
Since the start of the year, there has been a major obstacle: the new immigration rules. Since Brexit, it has not been so easy for EU citizens to work in the UK. You must not only prove your fluency in English, but also a minimum wage. In addition, visa procedures are expensive and sometimes lengthy. Since Brexit, there has been a new points-based system that favors highly skilled workers. From the government’s point of view, truckers are not included.
The minister promises: “We will set heaven and hell in motion.
The economy has therefore been asking for weeks that truck drivers be added to the list of so-called shortage jobs in order to be able to work without problem in Great Britain. Laboratory technicians, architects and health management workers are on the government’s “shortage list”. They are all officially wanted, but not the truck drivers.
So far, the government does not want to know much about the transportation industry lawsuits; and certainly not heard of the fact that Brexit could be the root cause of misery. Economy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng called on businesses to train the local unemployed and increase wages. Now there are agencies trying to lure truck drivers with cash bonuses.
For its part, the government promises to do whatever it takes. “We will move heaven and earth to ensure that bottlenecks are alleviated,” Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday. The government is working hard to change laws to make it easier to train new truck drivers. In addition, we must ensure that the work becomes more attractive. Until then, the government has at least a contingency plan: if things really go wrong, soldiers should bring gasoline to gas stations.