The driver shortage sparked panic buying at filling stations across the UK © PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images
The driver shortage sparked panic buying at filling stations across the UK © PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Fears over 'impotent' HGV visa scheme

30 September 2021

Industry groups have warned temporary visas designed to entice international workers to the UK won’t be enough to tackle HGV driver shortages.

Logistics UK said new visas announced by the government for international haulage drivers will only last for up to two months in practice, rather than the three promised by ministers. 

The trade body said this was because once the new visas, which will run until 24 December, have passed through Parliament drivers will not start work until late October. 

The logistics industry has called for six-month temporary visas.

The criticism comes as the UK faces nationwide fuel shortages sparked by panic buying after the driver crisis affected deliveries to filling stations.

Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, said: “[We are] concerned at the news that the temporary visas for HGV drivers granted by government may be for only a two-month duration, rather than the declared three-month period. The three-month visa was much lower than the six months we had requested to enable additional testing capacity to be delivered by DVSA and more drivers to be trained. 

“Our fear is that it is very unlikely that a two-month visa will attract EU drivers which would make the scheme impotent. We are seeking urgent clarification from the government on this issue.” 

Duncan Buchanan, policy director at the Road Haulage Association, told iNews: “We don’t know what the rules are for these visas yet, and with them not starting until next month it’s not the solution we need now.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Edwin Atema from the Dutch FNV union, which represents lorry drivers across Europe, said the policy was “a dead end”.

“More is needed, and I think the EU workers we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help the UK out of the shit they created themselves.” 

Meanwhile, despite the government previously announcing it was introducing measures to allow an additional 50,000 HGV driver tests to become available per year, a freedom of information request has revealed almost two-thirds of test centres across the UK currently have a waiting list of at least 11 weeks, with some test centres facing 24-week waiting times. 

The study, by Driver Hire Training, found the average waiting time across all UK test centres was nine weeks. Test centres in Aberdeen, Aryll and Shetland faced waiting times of 24 weeks. 

John Keelan-Edwards, group technology services director at Driver Hire Training, said: “Although the government are changing rules to HGV tests to help pass eager drivers through their exams quicker, it’s no surprise to see the waiting list for these exams is still up to 24 weeks in some areas, as coronavirus is still adding pressure to examiners up and down the country.”

He pointed to how seasonal pressures including Christmas and Black Friday were only exacerbating pressures on testing centres and the haulage industry, adding: “We can guarantee this is only going to be adding more pressure to the supply chain as a whole, with the increasing number of people shopping for these events online.”

Separately, a coalition of international business groups has called on governments to allow for the free movement of transport workers and “to end travel bans and other restrictions that have had an enormously detrimental impact on their wellbeing and safety”.

The open letter to heads of state and government attending the United Nations General Assembly was signed by groups including the International Chamber of Shipping, the International Air Transport Association and the International Road Transport Union. 

It urged governments to prioritise transport workers for Covid-19 vaccinations and introduce globally-recognised vaccination certificates. 

The organisations called on governments to “urgently take the leadership that is required to bring an end to the fragmented travel rules and restrictions that have severely impacted the global supply chain and put at risk the health and wellbeing of our international transport workforce”.

The coalition claimed the “mistreatment” of workers was “adding pressure on an already crumbling global supply chain”. 

The letter continued: “We are witnessing unprecedented disruptions and global delays and shortages on essential goods including electronics, food, fuel and medical supplies. Consumer demand is rising and the delays look set to worsen ahead of Christmas and continue into 2022.

“We have all continued to keep global trade flowing throughout the pandemic, but it has taken a human toll.”

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