Up to 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers can receive temporary UK visas as the government seeks to limit disruption in the run-up to Christmas.
The government confirmed that 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be eligible to work in the UK for three months, until Christmas Eve. The scheme is also being extended to 5,500 poultry workers.
The transport secretary said he did not want to “undercut” British workers but could not stand by while queues formed.
But the British Chambers of Commerce said the measures were the equivalent of “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”. And the Road Haulage Association said the announcement “barely scratches the surface”, adding that only offering visas until Christmas Eve “will not be enough for companies or the drivers themselves to be attractive”.
Marc Fels, director of the HGV Recruitment Centre, said visas for lorry drivers were “too little” and “too late”. However, the news was welcomed by freight industry group Logistics UK, which called the policy “a huge step forward in solving the disruption to supply chains”.
How serious is the HGV driver shortage?
A shortage of lorry drivers has caused problems for a range of industries in recent months, from supermarkets to fast food chains.In recent days, some fuel deliveries have been affected, leading to lengthy queues at petrol stations – despite ministers insisting the UK has plenty of fuel.
There are reports of dozens of cars queuing in London by 07:00 BST on Sunday morning, while many filling stations had signs up saying they had no fuel. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that there was enough fuel in the country and that if people were “sensible” and only filled up when they needed to there would not be shortages.
As well as allowing more foreign workers, other measures include using Ministry of Defence examiners to increase HGV (heavy goods vehicle) testing capacity, and sending nearly one million letters to drivers who hold an HGV licence, encouraging them back into the industry.
Officials said the loan of MoD examiners would help put on “thousands of extra tests” over the next 12 weeks. Recruitment for additional short-term HGV drivers and poultry workers will begin in October.Mr Shapps said: “We are acting now, but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.
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