UK gas shortages reveal important new workers: truck drivers

LONDON – For more than three decades, David Cardin has driven through the Midlands of England, transporting tens of thousands of liters of fuel from tanks to service stations. The flammable liquid made this a dangerous job that required skill and caution, but when the pay started and the benefits were good, it enabled him to support his young family.

Conditions gradually worsened for drivers. Hours of operation increased, roadside facilities deteriorated and benefits cut.

“In the end, we lost so much that made the job worth doing,” said Mr. Carden.

In 2017, he resigned.

Now, as a file A severe shortage of truck drivers Drying gas pumps across the country and disrupting the lives of thousands, the British and their leaders in Parliament are sending a sad message: We need you.

The government sends Message to nearly a million people Those who hold a heavy goods vehicle driver’s license, urge them to get back on the road. It is also working to ease visa restrictions for thousands of foreign workers, hoping to attract them to temporary work in Britain.

But the government may find few people accept it for offers. Mr. Cardin, 57, was resolute in his determination: “There is no chance of returning to the industry.”

His disappointment highlights the acute challenges facing the industry. Tens of thousands of EU drivers have left the country – in large part because Brexit made them undesirable – and potential drivers have been unable to take their qualification tests for more than a year because of the pandemic. The chauffeur industry has always been dominated by men and 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 underappreciated and increasingly stressed by tough working conditions, low wages and neglected truck stops, the fact that employers struggle to find workers comes as no surprise.

“People don’t think of truck drivers unless things go wrong,” said Robert Booth, 50, a driver from Dover on the south coast of England.

And a lot went wrong this week: People waited in long queues for fuel and some stations set limits on how much they can fill their tank. others simply I couldn’t get to work Because they had no gas or because traffic had built up around the stations, blocking the roads. Some companies, such as taxis and private ambulances, have scaled back their services.

The government put the army on standby and said on Thursday that some military personnel would start helping deliver fuel in the next few days.

The emergence of long-overlooked drivers as a key component of the country’s economy is reminiscent of the pandemic’s first year. Considered low-skilled and low-paid workers – many of them immigrants – captured the nation’s attention and gained new respect. Across Britain, people are taking to their doorsteps to applaud for National Health Service workers. Supermarket assistants and public transportation personnel are no longer invisible, appearing on the front covers of publications such as British Vogue.

Now, truck drivers are being listened to and recruited – so much so that Prime Minister Boris Johnson overturned post-Brexit immigration rules when he agreed to issue 5,000 Temporary visas For foreign drivers until the end of the year.

But the industry warns that it may be a bit too late while they wait for details.

“On the one hand, that’s what we’ve been asking the government to do,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy at the Road Transport Association, which has been pushing for visa restrictions to be eased and the number of temporary visas doubled. “But three months is really a very small amount of time for people to give up an existing job. You will hardly scratch the surface.”

Some drivers may again be attracted by increased salaries and bonuses but there are no quick solutions to this problem that has been brewing for years. Brexit has left out EU drivers who can now find good wages and better roadside facilities on the continent, where driver shortages in countries like Poland and Germany are as bad or worse.

There is a huge backlog of driving tests in Britain, training is expensive and the industry has not succeeded in attracting a young workforce. Mr McKenzie said the average age of a truck driver is about 50, and many government letters will be sent to the doors of people who have retired or moved into management positions.

“They are not a group of a hundred thousand people who will suddenly heed the call and return to arms,” said Mr. McKenzie. “I hope we get some. But there are no magic bullets here.”

Mr. Cardin stopped driving a tanker truck about four years ago after a large logistics company took over the business and there was more pressure to speed up deliveries. He now drives a pickup truck for a family business.

Amid stiff competition for qualified truck drivers, some tanker drivers have turned to decent paid jobs doing less risky deliveries. When Mr. Carden left, he said, several of his colleagues also resigned around the same time.

“They’re thinking, ‘Why should I drive a 44,000-liter bomb, when I can get the same money to deliver packets of potato chips to the supermarket?'” said Mr. Cardin. “

“The general public didn’t appreciate the industry and neither was the government,” he added. “Drivers will spend nights away from their homes, and the facilities offered to them are likely to be the poorest in Europe.”

Conditions in truck stops are often cited as a reason why more people, especially women, do not want to join the industry. Mr. Booth, the driver from Dover, is a so-called ultramar – he picks up and drops building materials over long distances. He’s usually on the road for five days at a time, and while the hours are grueling, he said he enjoys the sense of adventure. “Let’s be honest, we still feel like an eight-year-old who wants to drive big trucks,” he said.

But he said the industry had neglected the realities of road life for drivers. At the stations, there are often dirty bathrooms, inadequate toilets and insecurity. It can be hard to find decent meals. Mr. Booth Facebook page Dedicated to documenting the healthy meals he cooks on the road.

“The industry itself used to consider that we have cheaper labor from abroad,” he said.

It will be difficult to persuade European workers to return to Britain because the drivers were. Bad treatment and discriminationsaid Thomas Orensky, 41, who drives trucks part-time in Scotland. He moved to Britain from Poland in 2005 but plans to return to the European Union soon.

“You are told all the time how much you are a burden to this country,” he said, referring to Britain. All while salaries have been stagnant for a decade or more. so, what are you doing? Pack your bags and go back to your country, which has developed rapidly over all those years.”

Even if some drivers decide to obtain temporary visas in Britain, they are unlikely to work for the full three months available because recruitment and transportation can take weeks. Over the past seven years, Emil Gerasimov, Head of Driving at Ideal Recruit, has brought in drivers from abroad, mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. Temporary visas are unlikely to provide much relief.

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

Near London Heathrow Airport, Steve Bowles runs the Roy Bowls Transport Company, which transports goods. The company is named after his father who started the business in the 1950s. It has about 40 vehicles and moves cargo only within a 50-mile radius of the airport, which means avoiding some of the more difficult aspects of the job, such as long nights on the road.

Like many companies, Mr. Bowles has Raise the salaries of its employees But he said it was still short of the number of drivers it needed by about 20 per cent. He lamented that the agency’s recruitment costs rose “sideways through the roof”.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “This is the busiest time of the year and it restricts this business.”

Mr. Bowles used to drive trucks himself before he took over the company with his sister. He, too, may soon receive a letter from the government telling him to return to driving. But at the age of 67 with health challenges, he has no intention of getting back behind the wheel.

He said, “I’m not going out in the car.” “If I can’t cover work with my driver, what’s the point of me getting out of the office unattended.”

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