Lorry driver shortages have not caused empty supermarket shelves or disruption in Europe because of “labour flexibilities” in the single market, industry experts said.
They told The Times that the European Union’s single market allows the logistics industry in the continent to protect itself against the shortages that are causing acute issues in the UK.
“In Europe haulage companies have more flexibility to deploy labour to add transport capacity,” Michael Clover of Transport Intelligence, a logistics consultancy that works across Europe, said.
“Hauliers can recruit drivers from anywhere within the EU so can draw on the whole pool of European drivers.
“Secondly, the geography of the continent and the flow of goods also enables much higher rates of ‘cabotage’ [the transport of goods between two places in a country by an operator from another country] which can ‘top up’ capacity in countries with constrained transport capacity.”
Polish market unaffected
While Poland has a shortage of 123,000 drivers – compared with Britain’s shortfall of between 60,000 to 76,000 – there are few supply problems.
One Polish lorry driver in the UK, Tomasz Orynski, said Poland’s position as a haulage hub in the single market has prevented a crisis – because it allows drivers to be spread across broader.
Polish lorries, for example, can help to widen the supply chain in Germany to offset bottlenecks – combined with friction-free imports from foreign drivers who can deliver loads across Poland.
“The Polish job market is much bigger, we are responsible for vast chunks of the European road transport. I would guess most of our trucks work in international transport and [don’t] just serve Poland,” Orynski told The Times.
“We are in the EU, so local shortages can be easily replaced with imports. You can see, for example, Czech trucks delivering fresh food to Polish restaurants without all that post-Brexit customs, veterinary inspections and delays.”
Brexit and the ensuing end to freedom of movement between the UK and EU, combined with the Covid pandemic, has seen at least 15,000 central and eastern European drivers return home.
Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that the situation on the filling station forecourts is “stabilising” as he urged motorists to go about their business in the normal way.
Following days of chaos, with long queues for petrol and stations running dry, the prime minister said he understood the frustration felt by drivers as they struggled to fill up.
However he said that the indications from the industry were that the situation was beginning to improve with supplies returning to normal levels.
“On the forecourts the situation is stabilising and people should be confident and just go about their business in the normal way,” he said in a pooled interview with broadcasters.
His appeal came as Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of reducing the country to “chaos” through its failure to deal with the fuel crisis.
The Labour leader said the haulage industry was “beyond frustrated” at the lack of a clear plan by ministers to alleviate the problems caused by the shortage of tanker drivers.