Declining wages, poor roadside conditions and post-Brexit immigration rules have led to a severe driver shortage. Despite the appeal, some say they are reluctant to return.
LONDON – For more than three decades, David Cardon has driven in the Midlands of England, transporting tens of thousands of liters of fuel from tanks to service stations. The flammable liquid made it a dangerous job that required skill and attentiveness, but he was able to support his young family when the starting salary and benefits were good.
Gradually the situation got worse for the drivers. Hours got longer, roadside facilities deteriorated and benefits dwindled.
“After all,” said Mr. Carden, “we have lost too much to make that work worth doing.”
He left the job in 2017.
Now, with gas pumps running dry across the country and thousands of lives disrupted due to a severe shortage of truck drivers, Britain and their leaders in Parliament are delivering a plaintiff message: We need you.
the government is sending A letter to about 1 million people Urges those who have license to drive heavy goods vehicles to get them back on the road. And it is easing visa restrictions in hopes of luring thousands of foreign workers to temporary work in Britain.
But the government can find only a few people who are taking them on offer. Mr Carden, 57, was firm in his resolve: “There is no chance of me going back to that industry.”
His disillusionment underscores the challenges facing the industry. Thousands of EU drivers have left the country – in large part because Brexit made it clear they were not wanted – and potential drivers could not take their qualifying exams for more than a year because of the pandemic. Long dominated by men, the driver industry has done little to add women to its ranks.
As a result, there is a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers in the UK, according to the Road Haulage Association.
For truck drivers, who have long been feeling less and more stressed by tough working conditions, low pay and neglected truck stops, the fact that employers are struggling to find workers comes as no surprise. was not.
“People don’t think about lorry drivers until it all goes wrong,” said driver Robert Booth, 50, from Dover on England’s south coast.
And a lot has gone wrong this week: People waited in long lines to get gas and some stations put limits on how much they could fill their tanks. Others couldn’t go to work because they didn’t have gas or because traffic had built up around the stations, jamming the roads. Some businesses, such as taxis and private ambulances, reduced their services.
The government put the military on standby and said on Thursday that some military personnel would start helping deliver fuel in the next few days.
The emergence of long-overlooked drivers as an essential force in the country’s economy is a reminder of the first year of the pandemic. Workers who were considered low-skilled and paid low wages – many of them migrants – caught the nation’s attention and gained new respect. Across Britain, people flocked to National Health Service workers to clap their doors. Supermarket assistants and public transport workers were no longer invisible, and were featured on the front covers of publications such as British Vogue.
Now, truckers are being heard and recruited – so much so that Prime Minister Boris Johnson changed his post-Brexit immigration rules when he approved the issuance of five thousand temporary visas for foreign drivers by the end of the year. Gave.
But the industry has warned that it may be too late as they await details.
“On one hand, we have called on the government to do the same, which is lobbying for relaxed visa restrictions and twice as many temporary visas,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy at the Road Haulage Association. “But three months is really too short a time for people to leave their current jobs. It will barely scratch the surface. “
Some drivers may be attracted back by higher salaries and bonuses but there is no fast solution to this problem that has been going on for years. Brexit has turned away EU drivers, who can now find better pay and better roadside facilities on the continent, where driver shortages are as bad or worse as in countries such as Poland and Germany.
There is a huge backlog of driving tests in the UK, training is expensive and the industry has not been successful in attracting a young workforce. The average age of a trucker is around 50 and many letters from the government will go to the doorsteps of those who have retired or have taken up management positions, Mr. McKenzie said.
“They are not a pool of a million people who will suddenly heed the call and return to arms,” McKenzie said. “We’ll get some of them, I hope. But there are no magic bullets here.”
Mr. Carden stopped operating a tanker truck about four years ago after he was hired by a larger logistics company and there was more pressure to speed up deliveries. He now drives a van for the family business.
In the midst of stiff competition for qualified truck drivers, some tanker drivers have switched to well-paying jobs with less dangerous deliveries. When Mr. Carden left, he said that many of his colleagues had also quit around the same time.
“They’re thinking, ‘Why do I run a 44,000-liter bomb when I can get the same amount of money to deliver a box of crisps to the supermarket? Mr. Cardon said.
“The general public has not appreciated this industry and neither has the government,” he said. “The drivers will spend the night away from home and the facilities they are given are probably the poorest in Europe.”
Truck stop conditions are often cited as a reason why more people, especially women, do not want to be involved in the industry. Mr. Booth, Dover’s driver, is a so-called vagabond – he picks up and drops construction materials over long distances. He is usually on the road for five days at a time, and when the hours are grueling, he said he enjoys the feeling of adventure. “To be honest, we all still feel like an 8-year-old who wants to drive big trucks,” he said.
But the industry has neglected the realities of life on the road for drivers, he said. At the stops, there are often dirty showers, not enough toilets and a lack of security. Good food can be difficult to find. Mr. Booth is a facebook page Dedicated to documenting the healthy meals they cook on the road.
“The industry itself had assumed that we had a cheap supply of labor from abroad,” he said.
It will be harder to persuade European workers to return to the UK as drivers have been mistreated and discriminated against, said Tomasz Orinski, 41, who drives a truck part-time in Scotland. He moved to the UK from Poland in 2005 but intends to return to the EU soon.
“You are being told all the time how you are a burden to this country,” he said, referring to Britain. “While salaries were stagnant for a decade or more. So what do you do? You pack up and go back to your country, which has developed rapidly all those years. “
Even if some drivers decide to take out a temporary visa in the UK, it is unlikely that they will work for a full three months as recruitment and transfer can take weeks. For the past seven years, Emil Gerasimov, Head of Driving for Ideal Recruit, has brought in drivers from abroad, especially from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. Temporary visa is unlikely to provide much relief.
“Why would they leave a secure job in Europe to work here for three months?” he said.
Near London’s Heathrow Airport, Steve Bowles runs Roy Bowles Transport, which carries cargo. The company is named after his father who started the business in the 1950s. It holds about 40 vehicles and carries goods within a 50-mile radius of the airport, meaning that some of the more difficult aspects of the job, such as long nights on the road, are avoided.
Like many businesses, Mr Bowles has raised wages for his employees, but said he still lacks the number of drivers he needs by about 20 percent. And the cost of hiring the agency has risen “through the edge of the roof,” he lamented.
“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “It’s our busiest time of year and it’s restricting that business.”
Mr. Bowles was a truck driver himself before taking over the management of the company with his sister. They too may soon get a letter from the government asking them to return to driving. But with 67 years of health challenges, he has no intention of getting back behind the wheel.
“I won’t go out driving,” he said. “What’s the point of leaving my office if I can’t get my drivers to work with me.”