The Government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced Saturday it would be offering 10,500 temporary visas in the absence of a foreign labour force that was forced to leave the country after it cut itself loose from the European Union in addition to travel restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The provisional work permits to span from October to December are aimed chiefly at truck drivers and labourers in the poultry industry. The lack of drivers has forced petrol stations to close down due to the impossibility of bringing fuel to the pumps. McDonald's ran out of milkshakes and bottled drinks last month, KFC was forced to remove some items from its menu, while Nando's temporarily shut dozens of outlets due to a lack of chicken. Supermarkets are also feeling the heat, with frozen-food group Iceland and retail king Tesco warning of Christmas product shortages.
British Chamber of Commerce Chairman Ruby McGregor-Smith said that the measure announced by the Executive is not enough to solve the scale of the problem and compared it to throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.
The RHA has been warning that around 100,000 additional drivers were needed in the UK, a crisis which has also affected supermarkets and hospitality, among other areas.
In recent weeks, the British Government has urged companies with a labour shortage to increase their efforts to hire British employees, although companies warn that to attract local workers it is necessary to raise wages, which would, in turn, affect consumer prices.
The Executive said in a statement Saturday that the extension of the granting of visas will be carried out until Christmas, to reduce the pressures in the supply chain in the food and transport industry during exceptional circumstances.”
Only supermarkets estimate that they need at least 15,000 drivers for their companies to be able to operate at full capacity at the doors of Christmas, said Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability of the employer's association, in a statement.
The decision to expand the critical worker visa scheme is a reversal by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government had insisted Britain's reliance on foreign labour must end.
The [local] industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained for companies to retain new drivers, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps explained.
The new measures will focus on rapidly expanding the number of new domestic drivers, and include deploying Ministry of Defence driving examiners to help provide thousands of extra tests over the next 12 weeks. Meanwhile, the education ministry and partner agencies will spend millions of pounds training 4,000 people to become HGV drivers, creating new so-called skills boot camps” to speed up the process.
Johnson has been under increasing pressure to act, after the pandemic and Brexit combined to worsen the haulier shortage and other crises emerged, including escalating energy prices. The government has so far resisted calls to deploy soldiers to help deliver petrol directly.