Lorry drivers are preparing for a country-wide strike over working conditions and low pay, sparking fears that existing food shortages could worsen.
Around 3,000 HGV drivers are already planning to “stay at home” on 23rd August.
But Kate Gibbs of the Road Haulage Association suggested the strike could throw the supply chain out completely.
“If you think things are bad now it’ll just make things so much worse,” she told The Guardian.
EU lorry drivers ‘not keen to come back’
Lorry driver Mark Schubert told the newspaper that “as long as stuff’s on the shelf, people don’t seem to give a damn about us.”
Schubert added Brexit’s effect has been amplified by the Home Office’s stance on EU immigration.
He thinks EU citizens are now “not going to be overly keen on coming back.”
“Even if they can, are they going to be treated like criminals when they arrive at the border? This issue can’t be solved overnight. Even if you allow east European drivers on short-term work visas this is going to take six months to two years to fix,” he added.
Government measures spark safety fears
And although around 10,000 workers at food distribution centres have been exempted from having to quarantine if they come into contact with a positive Covid case, the shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers is still hitting supermarket shelves hard.
Earlier this month, the government has announced plans to relax rules around lorry drivers’ working hours to make up for shortages.
The move, which would see a “temporary extension” of safety limits to make up for the disruption in the food supply has been branded “unsafe”.
Labour labelled the move as “political point-scoring” off the back of Brexit.
Labour County Councillor Alexandra Bulat, who has campaigned heavily for EU citizens’ rights since Brexit, said there are “good reasons” why driving hours limits existed in the first place.
“Drivers need to be well-rested for their safety as well as the safety of all road users,” she told The London Economic.
‘Scoring political points on immigration’
She added: “Instead of pressuring drivers to drive in unsafe conditions, we should think about why these shortages exist.
“Many EU migrant drivers left the UK during the pandemic and the new immigration system will make it difficult to recruit migrant drivers who have been key to this part of the economy.
“We should not compromise the safety of road users to score political points on immigration.”
Meanwhile, the government has also proposed relaxing tests for lorry and van drivers on UK roads to tackle shortages.
And although this move has also sparked safety fears, it has been hailed as a benefit from “increased post-Brexit sovereignty”, according to The Independent.
Under new government plans, more drivers would be recruited every week by being given permission to drive an articulated lorry “without also having to pass a rigid lorry practical test”.
Naomi Smith, Best for Britain’s chief executive, said: “It also beggars belief that, in a letter about a problem caused by Brexit, the government celebrates leaving the EU as it allows us to cut standards and safety to address the issue.”
A government spokesperson said: “Road safety is of paramount importance and all HGV drivers will continue to undergo rigorous testing.
“Under these proposals drivers would still need to undertake the off-road manoeuvres part of the test – and would have to be supervised when driving until fully qualified.”
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