More heroes needed who work behind the scenes

The striking pictures of empty supermarket shelves and closed petrol stations have shone a spotlight on the UK’s delivery infrastructure.

The striking pictures of empty supermarket shelves and closed petrol stations have shone a spotlight on the UK’s delivery infrastructure.

While many of us have become used to buying what we want when we want it, we now see that countless numbers of drivers have been the behind-the-scenes heroes traversing distribution networks both here and in the EU.

But post-Brexit things have changed with many EU residents returning home leaving our supply chains exposed, not to mention the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Little wonder, then, that industry leaders have called on the Government to add more occupations to the occupation shortage list in order to fill vacancies quickly.

The Government responded, with the Department for Transport announcing up to 5,000 drivers will be able to come to the UK to transport food and fuel in the run-up to Christmas.

In addition, up to 5,500 poultry workers will be able to work in the UK ahead of Christmas 2021 through the Temporary Workers route.

These are short-term measures and highlight that overseas workers can’t be recruited as before.

That’s because if job roles aren’t on the occupation shortage list employers can’t fill their vacancies from overseas.

Jobs on the list must have a four-digit occupation code but some of the roles that are most urgently needed right now, such as care workers and retail support workers, are not included.

HGV drivers are also not included, so delivery drivers from outside the UK can’t be recruited, apart from those allowed to come and work in the months leading up to Christmas.

On paper it makes perfect sense – why bring in overseas workers when there are plenty of capable people in the UK to do the work?

Some employers have, of course, increased wages in a bid to recruit to their workforce from here in the UK but for many employers increasing wages is not an option.

A further issue has been identified, in that some HGV drivers from Europe, who previously worked in the UK, have pre-settled or settled status over here, but still decided to return to their country of origin post- Brexit.

There are calls from industry leaders for these workers to return to the UK to support our workforce.

Care homes have also depended on EU workers with many vacancies going unfilled.

For this sector, only senior care workers on a salary of £16,900 per annum (or £10.10 an hour) can be sponsored.

And, as many care workers receive the national living wage of £8.91 per hour, many care homes can simply not afford to sponsor as they would have to increase workers’ salaries in order to do so.

Thankfully, schools and charities have roles which are eligible for sponsorship licences and pay higher salaries meeting the threshold, otherwise the education and charity sectors would also be affected.

Schools have increasingly turned to sponsorship for teaching positions where there simply are not enough British nationals – for subjects such as physics and maths. In the charity sector it is possible to sponsor managers and senior personnel, where recruitment isn’t possible internally within the UK.

Grant Shapps spoke to Radio 4’s Today programme last Friday (September 24, 2021) saying more testing, better conditions and higher pay should fix the HGV driver shortage.

“We will do whatever is required in order to make sure there are sufficient drivers,” he said.

With increasing reports of worker shortages in all sectors, it will be interesting to see if the Government takes further steps to ease the pressure on businesses.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson