Temporary UK visas to be granted to 10,500 foreign workers to keep Christmas on track

More than 10,000 workers will be temporarily allowed to work as truck drivers and in the food business as UK government ministers seek to save Christmas from supply shortages.

A temporary visa program will allow 5,000 truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers to hold jobs in the UK until Christmas Eve, in an effort to keep supermarket shelves full of turkeys and of toys and to counter delivery difficulties at service stations.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with visas available from next month, “would ensure that preparations remain on track” for the holiday season.

Retailers had warned the UK government it had only 10 days to avoid a “significant disruption” over Christmas due to a shortage of around 90,000 drivers in the freight sector.

Industry groups Food and Drink Federation and Logistics UK have both welcomed the visa changes, with federation chief Ian Wright calling the measures “pragmatic”.

But UK Chamber of Commerce chairman Ruby McGregor-Smith said the changes were “the equivalent of throwing a dice of water on a bonfire” because that would “not be enough to resolve the scale. of the problem “.

The announcement of easing immigration rules to ease supply pressures comes amid long lines at gas stations after a shortage of specialist tanker drivers forced some retailers of fuel to shut down their pumps and ration sales.

Motorists line up to refuel in Ashford, Kent (Gareth Fuller / PA)

Besides the short-term measure of openness to foreign workers, the UK Ministry of Defense is also stepping in to provide examiners for truck driving tests as ministers seek to steadily increase the size of the workforce.

Officials said the loan of Defense Department examiners to work alongside Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) employees would help organize “thousands more tests” over the next 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, nearly a million letters will land in the coming days on the doormats of heavy truck license holders to encourage those who have left the industry to return.

The letter will set out measures taken by the road transport sector to improve conditions in the industry, including increasing wages, flexible working and fixed hours, according to the transport ministry.

Mr Shapps said: ‘This package of measures builds on the important work we have already done to alleviate this global crisis in the UK, and this government continues to do everything possible to help the transport and transport industries. supply to cope with the shortage of truck drivers.

“We are acting now but industries must also play their part, working conditions continue to improve and deserved wage increases continue to be maintained so that companies retain new drivers.

“After 18 very difficult months, I know how important this Christmas is to all of us and that is why we are taking these steps as soon as possible to ensure that preparations stay on track.”

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a global shortage of truck drivers, although there have been long-term problems in the UK with a workforce amid an aging workforce, low wages and poor truck stopping conditions.

The DfT said it recognized that importing foreign labor “would not be the long-term solution” to the problem and that it wanted investments to be invested in building a workforce. strong national work.

Officials said the government continued to support addressing the high vacancy rate through improved testing and hiring, with better wages, working conditions and diversity.

Another long-term move to turn the tide will see the Department of Education spending up to £ 10million on creating new ‘skills training camps’ to train up to 3,000 more people to become truck drivers.

The free and intensive courses will train drivers to take an entry heavy goods vehicle license (Category C) or a more advanced course to drive heavier and longer trucks (Category C&E).

A thousand more people are expected to be trained through locally accessible courses funded by the government’s adult education budget.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the temporary visa offer would help keep Christmas “on track” (Victoria Jones / PA)

Those who access medical and heavy truck licenses through the adult budget in the 2021/22 academic year will have their qualifications paid for by the state, with funding being backdated for anyone who started one of those qualifications on the 1st. August or after that date.

More DVSA examiners will also be free to conduct truck driving tests through a change in the law to allow driving examiners from the three emergency services and the Ministry of Defense to be able to perform road tests. driving for each other.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Heavy truck drivers make this country run.

“We’re taking action to tackle the driver shortage by removing barriers to help more people launch new, well-paying careers in the industry, helping thousands get the training they need to be ready.” rolling.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We have listened to industry concerns and are taking action to alleviate what is a very tight labor market.”

The government said it had already streamlined the process for new heavy truck drivers while increasing the number of available drive tests to allow an additional 50,000 tests to take place per year.