LONDON: Cars queued up at some British gas stations for a fourth day on Monday as the government considered sending troops to help ease supply disruptions caused by a shortage of truck drivers.
Brian Maderson, president of the Petrol Retailers Association, said military personnel were being trained “in the background” to operate the tanker, although the government said it “has no plans at the moment” to deploy troops.
The association, which represents about 5,500 independent outlets, said on Sunday that nearly two-thirds of its members were reporting they had run out of fuel, as driver shortages triggered a round of panic-buying of petrol. had started.
Roland McKibbin, a self-employed electrician in London, said he had to cancel his job because he was not getting gas.
“I depend on fuel to travel to jobs, no fuel which means I can’t drive, which means I can’t get a job with my equipment,” he said. “So, basically, panic-buying idiots have made me lose income, and take food straight off the table for my wife and 5-year-old son, because I can’t wire people’s houses from home, Unfortunately.”
The UK haulage industry says the UK is short of 100,000 truck drivers after the UK left the EU last year due to a perfect storm of factors including the coronavirus pandemic, an aging workforce and the exodus of foreign workers. Post-Brexit immigration rules mean that EU citizens can no longer live visa-free in the UK, as they could when the UK was a member of the bloc.
Several countries, including the United States and Germany, are also facing a shortage of truck drivers. But the problem is particularly visible in Britain, where it has contributed to empty supermarket shelves and closed gas pumps.
The government blamed panic buying for petrol supply problems, and urged people not to hoard the fuel.
“The only reason we don’t have petrol in our yard is because people are buying petrol they don’t need,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said.
The government announced it was temporarily suspending competition laws so fuel companies can share information and target areas where supplies are running low.
It’s also bringing in military driving testers to help clear the backlog of new truck drivers waiting to be tested.
“At this time we have no plans to bring in our military to actually do the driving,” Eustice said.
“But we always have a civilian contingency section within the military on standby,” he said.
After weeks of mounting pressure over shortages, the UK’s Conservative government announced on Saturday it would issue thousands of emergency visas to foreign truck drivers to help prevent Christmas without turkeys or toys for many British families. The government said it would issue 5,000 three-month visas for truck drivers from October, and another 5,500 visas for poultry workers.
But this is much less than the required number. Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the Confederation of British Industry, said the announcement was “the equivalent of throwing a drop of water on a bonfire.”
European truck drivers’ representatives were skeptical that many would want to come to the UK for such a short time. Visas are due to expire on December 24.
Edwin Atema of the Dutch FNV union, which represents drivers across Europe, said the visa scheme was “a dead end”.
“I think most EU activists we talk to will not go to the UK for short-term visas to help get the UK out of that (mess),” he told the BBC.