The UK government extended an emergency visa program for truck drivers as fuel shortages showed little sign of abating on Saturday, particularly in London and the south-east of England.
In an announcement Friday night, the Conservative government said temporary visas for nearly 5,000 foreign truck drivers it hopes to hire would run until 2022 instead of expiring on Christmas Eve as originally planned.
The short duration of the program announced last week has drawn much criticism for not being attractive enough to attract foreign drivers.
The government has said 300 fuel drivers could come to the UK from abroad “immediately” and stay until March. Some 4,700 other visas for foreign food truck drivers will last from the end of October to the end of February.
In another move to ease the pressure on UK pumps, around 200 military personnel, including 100 drivers, will be deployed from Monday to help alleviate fuel shortages that have caused empty pumps and long queues in petrol stations.
The government says the situation is already improving.
“Forecourt stock levels in the UK tend to increase, fuel deliveries to forecourt are above normal and fuel demand is stabilizing,” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said. “It is important to stress that there is no national fuel shortage in the UK and people should continue to buy fuel normally.”
However, the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent gas stations, has warned that fuel supply remains a problem and could worsen in places.
“In London and the south-east, and maybe parts of eastern England, if anything, it got worse,” group chairman Brian Madderson said on the radio. BBC.
Madderson praised the deployment of military drivers next week, but warned it would have limited impact.
“It will not be the major panacea,” he said. “It’s a big help, but in terms of volume, they won’t be able to carry that much.”
Opposition parties are urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to recall Parliament next week to address the wider situation of labor shortages and supply chain disruptions.
In recent months, many businesses have reported shortages, including fast food chains KFC, McDonald’s and Nando’s. Supermarket shelves have also looked sterile and fears have grown that they will not be stocked as usual as Christmas approaches.
In an attempt to avoid a shortage of Christmas turkeys, the government has also announced that 5,500 foreign poultry workers will be allowed into the UK from the end of October and will be able to stay there until the end of October. ‘year.
Johnson’s pro-Brexit government is keen to play down rumors that the driver shortage is the result of Britain leaving the European Union.
However, when the country left the EU’s economic orbit earlier this year, one of the main principles of the bloc ceased to apply – the freedom of people to move within the EU for find work.
With Brexit, tens of thousands of truck drivers have left the UK to return to their homes in the EU, putting further pressure on an industry already facing long-term staffing issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem, prompting thousands of European drivers to return to their countries of origin.
The UK’s severe closures have also resulted in difficulties in training and testing new domestic drivers to replace those who have left.
Additionally, the pandemic has sped up the number of UK truck drivers choosing to retire. Relatively low wages, changes in the way truck drivers’ incomes are taxed, and a lack of facilities – toilets and showers, for example – have also decreased the attractiveness of employment for young workers.