The U.K. wants to issue visas for truckers to ease a shortage that’s led to gasoline stations running dry and hit food supply chains. The hard part could be persuading drivers from eastern Europe, the biggest pool of labor in recent years, to come back.
Stung by months of changing rules because of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, those in Poland and Hungary interviewed on Monday said they aren’t ready to help unless they’re offered a long-term plan to work in the country and more pay. Echoing comments from Germany, Britain was now having to learn the consequences of Brexit, they said.
“There’s much distrust now against working in the U.K., given that the country is giving ad-hoc answers to its imminent problems,” said Tivadar Arvay, spokesman for the Hungarian Road Transport Association, which has about 2,500 members. The concern is that drivers would be “left in the lurch” after their visa expires. “They shouldn’t fall for this,” he said.
Lukasz Krzeminski, owner of Polish logistics firm TF Krzeminscy, said a longer-term solution would also have to be accompanied by more money.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to bring in army drivers if needed as the crisis escalates across the country, with scenes of panic buying at gasoline stations at the weekend. The labor shortage, which was exacerbated by Brexit and then the pandemic, has raised the prospect of disruption to food and fuel deliveries for weeks to come.
The U.K. opened its doors to workers from eastern Europe when the former communist states joined the European Union in 2004. Brexit campaigners, spearheaded by Johnson, said leaving the EU would allow the country to take back control of its borders.
Yet after insisting that haulage companies should train drivers and pay them more, the government made a u-turn over the weekend. Some 5,000 foreign drivers will be offered a 12-week visa until Christmas, a move businesses called woefully inadequate.
“Polish truck drivers and logistics companies want to do business, but they need some stable rules for longer than three months,” said Jan Buczek, head of Poland’s Association of International Road Transport Carriers.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.