Truck drivers’ visa to move gas to UK rated unsatisfactory
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Boris Johnson has bowed to industry demands to issue visas to foreign truck drivers as a crisis that has led to panic buying at gas stations and empty supermarket shelves threatens to undermine his government.
The scope of the plan, designed to respond to warnings of shortages before Christmas, has been called inappropriate by the Labor opposition and some business groups – while the UK Transport Secretary has derided a ‘fabricated’ crisis.
“This announcement is like throwing a dice of water on a bonfire,” said Ruby McGregor-Smith, President of the British Chambers of Commerce.
The Johnson government announced at the end of September 25 that it would issue 5,000 short-term visas to truck drivers and 5,500 to poultry workers, to help companies overcome a staff shortage that has been exacerbated by the post-crackdown. Brexit of immigration from the European Union. Temporary visas will expire on December 24.
He also brought in military examiners to run truck driving tests over the next 12 weeks to start clearing a huge backlog he blamed on more than a year of coronavirus restrictions.
Britain lacks around 100,000 licensed truck drivers, the Road Haulage Association has estimated. Tanker drivers need additional safety qualifications in addition to a heavy truck license.
It’s a significant turnaround for Johnson on one of the key red lines of his Brexit project, which the Prime Minister has touted as an opportunity to remake the UK economy away from EU rules and its labor pool. of work. The ministers argued that relying on bloc workers lowered national wages and discouraged recruitment and training.
But the worsening crisis has forced its hand, with images of long queues in service station forecourts potentially presenting more political peril than allowing thousands of European truckers to fill in the gaps. of labor with short-term visas.
On September 26, Transport Minister Grant Shapps defended the scope of the government’s response, which Labor leader Keir Starmer, speaking to the BBC, called “much, much too small”.
Importing European drivers to “cut UK wages” is not a long-term solution to the truck driver shortage, Shapps told Sky News “Trevor Phillips on Sunday”.
“Massive restrictions” on testing of potential truckers due to the coronavirus restrictions contributed to the bottleneck, he said.
“The winter of discontent”
Food and fuel shortages add to other daunting challenges facing the Johnson government, as Britons face soaring electricity prices just as some key pandemic support measures are being rolled out. lifted.
Gasoline shortages are worsening in parts of the UK as more stations dry up after panic buying.
Newspapers began to refer to a ‘winter of discontent’, a politically charged phrase evoking memories of 1978-79, when the UK economy was brought to its knees by strikes and inclement weather. He ultimately toppled the Labor government, ushering in the Tories under Margaret Thatcher.
The strength of Johnson’s Tories, with their parliamentary majority of over 80, means that there are – for now – limited parallels to this era.
Yet the various crises come at a bad time for Johnson and threaten to undermine his plan to draw a line under the pandemic and focus on delivering on his 2019 election promises.
Any sign of disruption at Christmas is also particularly damaging; he faced a lot of criticism for the tightening of the COVID rules – in another U-turn – the last holiday season.
The government also said:
- The new visas apply for 12 weeks, and only to drivers of refueling and fuel trucks.
- It is investing 10 million pounds ($ 13.7 million) to train up to 3,000 additional truck drivers.
- A thousand more drivers will be trained in local centers with the help of the adult education budget.
- He sends nearly a million letters to all currently licensed heavy-duty drivers encouraging them to return to the industry.
The measures were announced after gasoline shortages worsened, resulting in long slowdowns and many service stations running out of one or more types of fuel.
Reports of the problems had a cascading effect as drivers rushed to fill their tanks. Road signs announced which service areas were out of stock. Shapps said on Sky there was a lot of fuel.
“If people go on as they normally would and fill their cars up as they normally would,” he said, “then you won’t have any queues and you won’t have a shortage either. at the pump. “
It is estimated that 1% of the UK’s 8,380 service stations are currently closed. Estimates of shortages vary by supplier and can change quickly. The BBC reported that around 20 of BP’s gas stations were closed and 50 to 100 lacked at least one grade of fuel.
The government has repeatedly said there is enough fuel in the UK to supply petrol stations, but the shortage of truckers has hampered distribution.
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The British Retail Consortium has said the new measures are not enough to alleviate supply chain problems and called on the government to extend the visa program to heavy truck drivers in all sectors of the retail industry. detail.
McGregor-Smith, chairman of the chambers of commerce, said the government should have agreed to a managed transition plan with companies to help them move away from reliance on EU workers after Brexit .
Starmer from Labor echoed this sentiment: “We knew in particular that when we left the EU, a back-up plan would be needed to deal with the situation, and there is no government plan on that.” , he told the BBC. .
For its part, the government has said it still sees higher wages as the long-term solution to the shortage of truck drivers.
“Poor wages and terrible conditions” have led for years to the need to import heavy truck drivers, Shapps told Times Radio.
Long-term driver shortages will take “months to years” to resolve, Shapps said. The immediate situation of gasoline shortage will depend on “the behavior of millions of people,” he added.
The fate of Stanlow, one of the country’s largest oil refineries, threatens to worsen the UK’s fuel problems. The Times newspaper reported at the end of September 25 that the refinery, which produces about a sixth of the country’s road fuels, could be on the verge of collapse. Stanlow did not immediately respond to calls outside of regular business hours.
With the help of Emily Ashton, Anna Shiryaevskaya and Nishant Kumar.
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