UK gas shortage reveals crucial new workers: truck drivers

LONDON – For more than three decades, David Carden drove through England’s Midlands, transporting tens of thousands of gallons of fuel from tanks to filling stations. The flammable liquid made it a dangerous job that required skill and caution, but when he started paying and the benefits were good, he was able to support his young family.

Little by little the conditions worsened for the drivers. Hours grew longer, road facilities deteriorated, and profits dwindled.

“Over time,” Carden said, “we lost a lot of what made the work worth doing.”

In 2017, he resigned.

Now how critical shortage of truck drivers Has caused gasoline pumps to run out across the country and disrupted the lives of thousands, the British and their leaders in Parliament are sending a plaintive message: We need you.

The government is sending a letter to almost 1 million people who have a license to drive a heavy vehicle, urging them to get back on the road. And it’s relaxing visa restrictions for thousands of foreign workers, hoping to lure them into temporary work in Britain.

But the government could find few people accepting the offers. Carden, 57, was firm in his determination: “There is no possibility that he will go back to that industry.”

Their disenchantment underscores the great challenges facing the industry. Tens of thousands of drivers from the European Union have left the country, in large part because Brexit made it clear that they did not want them, and potential drivers were unable to take their qualification tests for more than a year due to the pandemic. Long dominated by men, the driver industry has done little to add women to its ranks.

As a result, Britain has a shortage of up to 100,000 truck drivers, according to the Road Transport Association.

For truck drivers who have long felt underrated and increasingly stressed by difficult working conditions, lower wages, and sloppy truck stops, the fact that employers are struggling to find workers does not It was a surprise.

“People don’t think about truckers until everything goes wrong,” said Robert Booth, 50, a driver from Dover on the south coast of England.

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 can fill their tank. Others simply I couldn’t go to work because they had no gasoline or because traffic had accumulated around the stations, obstructing the roads. Some companies, such as taxis and private ambulances, reduced their services.

The government put the army on hold and on Thursday said some military would start helping deliver fuel in the coming days.

The emergence of drivers long overlooked as an essential cog in the nation’s economy is reminiscent of the first year of the pandemic. Workers who had been deemed low-skilled and poorly paid, many of them migrants, captured the nation’s attention and gained new respect. Across Britain, people came to their doors to applaud the workers of the National Health Service. Supermarket assistants and public transport employees were no longer invisible and appeared on the covers of publications such as British Vogue.

Now truck drivers are being listened to and recruited, so much so that Prime Minister Boris Johnson changed his post-Brexit immigration rules when he approved the $ 5,000 issue. temporary visas for foreign drivers until the end of the year.

But the industry warns that it is probably too little and too late while they wait for the details.

“On the one hand, it’s what we asked the government to do,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy for the Road Haulage Association, which has been pushing for looser visa restrictions and double the number of temporary visas. “But three months is a really short period of time for people to quit an existing job. It will barely scratch the surface. “

Some drivers may be attracted to higher wages and bonuses, but there are no quick fixes to this problem that has been brewing for years. Brexit has turned away drivers from the European Union who can now find good wages and better facilities on the roads on the continent, where the driver shortage in countries like Poland and Germany is just as bad or worse.

There is a large backlog of driving tests in Britain, training is expensive, and the industry has failed to attract a young workforce. The average age of a trucker is about 50 years old, and many of the government’s letters will go through the doors of people who have retired or moved into managerial positions, McKenzie said.

“They are not a group of 100,000 people who will suddenly hear the call and return to arms,” ​​McKenzie said. “We will get some of them, I hope. But here there are no magic formulas. “

Carden stopped driving a tanker about four years ago after a large logistics company took over the job and there was more pressure to speed up deliveries. Now he drives a van for a family business.

Amid stiff competition for skilled truck drivers, some tanker truck drivers have switched to high-paying jobs that make less dangerous deliveries. When Mr. Carden left, he said that many of his colleagues also quit at the same time.

“They’re thinking, ‘Why should I drive a 44,000-liter pump, when I can get the same money for taking boxes of potato chips to the supermarket?’” Carden said.

“The general public has not appreciated this industry and neither has the government,” he added. “Drivers will be spending their nights away from home and the facilities offered to them are probably the poorest in Europe.”

Conditions at truck stops are frequently cited as a reason why more people, especially women, do not want to join the industry. Booth, the Dover driver, is a supposed homeless man: picking up and dropping off building materials over long distances. He’s typically traveling for five days in a row, and while the hours are grueling, he said he enjoys a sense of adventure. “Let’s 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 stops, there are often dirty showers, insufficient toilets, and a lack of security. It can be difficult to find decent meals. Mr. Booth has a facebook page dedicated to documenting the healthy meals you prepare on the go.

“The industry itself had taken it for granted that we had a cheaper supply of labor from abroad,” he said.

Convincing European workers to return to Britain will be difficult because the drivers have been mistreated and discriminatedsaid Tomasz Orynski, 41, who drives trucks part-time in Scotland. He moved to Britain from Poland in 2005, but intends to return to the European Union soon.

“You are told all the time that you are a burden on this country,” he said, referring to Britain. “All while wages were stagnant for a decade or more. Then what do you do? He packs up and returns to his country, which has developed rapidly during all those years. “

Even if some drivers decide to take the temporary visas in Britain, they are unlikely to work for the full three months available because recruitment and relocation can take weeks. For the past seven years, Emil Gerasimov, Ideal Recruit’s head of driver, has brought in drivers from abroad, especially from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. Temporary visas are unlikely to provide much relief.

“Why would they leave a secure job in Europe to work here for three months?” he said.

Near London Heathrow Airport, Steve Bowles runs Roy Bowles Transport, which moves cargo. The company is named after his father, who started the business in the 1950s. He has around 40 vehicles and moves goods only within a 50-mile radius of the airport, which means that some of the more difficult aspects are avoided. from work, like long nights on the road.

Like many companies, Bowles has salary increase for your staff But it said it still lacks the number of drivers it needs by about 20 percent. And the agency’s hiring costs have gone “through the roof,” he lamented.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “This is our busiest time of year and it’s restricting that business.”

Mr. Bowles used to drive the trucks himself before taking over the management of the company with his sister. He, too, could soon receive a letter from the government asking him to drive again. But at 67 years old with health problems, he has no intention of getting back behind the wheel.

“I will not drive out,” he said. “If I can’t cover work with my drivers, what’s the point of leaving the office unsupervised?”

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