Hauliers mull 'stay at home' strike in further threat to UK supply chains

Mon 26 Jul 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

truck driver

The ongoing shortage of HGV drivers, that is impacting UK supply chains, could worsen with hauliers now mulling a strike.

In June, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimated that the country was short of 100,000 drivers due to a loss of around 15,000 European workers following Brexit and delays at testing stations preventing newly qualified drivers getting behind the wheel.

The government’s proposal to extend permitted driving rules to solve the crisis prompted angry responses from multiple logistics trade associations, with hauliers complaining that their pay and working conditions were already below standard.

The recent ‘pingdemic’  – in which workers have been forced to self-isolate having been pinged by the NHS Covid-19 app – compounded the crisis, though the government has included freight workers among the key workers who are now being exempted from quarantine rules.

‘Stay at home’

Despite this exemption, hauliers are considering staying at home of their own volition via a strike in response to low pay and poor working conditions.

Planned for 23 August, the action has attracted nearly 3,000 HGV drivers already, with 340 joining last week.

Lorry driver Mark Schubert told the Guardian: “For far too many years we have been ignored, exploited and taken for granted. Now our time has come, now we have a window of opportunity to be listened to”.

Bad to worse

The Road Haulage Association has warned against the strike saying it could make a “bad situation worse”.

Its head of media and communications Kate Gibbs said: “We understand the drivers’ frustration, but downing tools is not the way forward. We don’t want to make a bad situation worse. A supply chain that runs like clockwork only requires the tiniest thing to throw it out completely.

Surcharges

The shortage of drivers has already disrupted supply chains with sweet manufacturer Haribo among the first firms to report problems at the start of July.

Since then supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and now Asda have demanded additional transportation fees from suppliers.

Over the weekend, the Grocer reported a letter from Asda to its suppliers giving them 30 days’ notice to agree to a 5% increase in haulage costs and blamed “Brexit uncertainty” for the hike.

A spokesperson for the supermarket said “passing on any costs is a last resort” but that the “challenges in the logistics industry remain unresolved”.

More to it

While supermarkets are among the most affected by the driver shortage, food and drink industry leaders have said that their labour problems are even wider in scope.

Writing in the Grocer, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation Richard Harlow said food businesses are also suffering from a shortage of managerial, skilled technical and manual-skilled workers.

On the latter, he said that the industry had lost “a high number of European staff who have been the mainstay of our workforce for years”.

Ease restrictions

The lack of European workers post-Brexit has also impacted other food production companies, including in fruit and vegetables.

Harrow has called on the government to ease its visa restrictions for those travelling to work in the food production industry.

“Restrictions on foreign workers must be reduced to allow suitable people to come to Britain to work in areas where there are labour shortages,” he said.