EU drivers won’t return to help UK ‘get out of the s***’, says European union boss

‘Drivers need way more than a visa’

Adam Forrest
Monday 27 September 2021 12:01
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EU drivers won’t return to help UK ‘get out of the s***’, says European union boss

Lorry drivers from Europe are not keen to return to the UK to help the country “get out of the s***”, said a union leader representing hauliers across the EU.

Boris Johnson’s government is thought to be considering whether to call in soldiers to deliver fuel to petrol stations to address the drastic shortfall in tanker drivers.

The government has also agreed to offer temporary visas to 5,000 foreign heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers in a bid to ease the fuel crisis.

But Edwin Atema, from the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), which represents lorry drivers across the EU, said it would not be enough to tempt drivers.

“The EU workers we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help the UK get out of the s*** they created for themselves,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The FNV leader added: “It’s not like offering a visa … and the issue will be solved. Drivers need way more than a visa and a pay slip.”

Mr Atema cited poor levels of pay, lack of good facilities and the absence of any collective bargaining agreement for the road transport industry in the UK.

“Drivers from across Europe have completely lost all trust in this industry,” he said. “Long before coronavirus and Brexit this industry was sick already, plagued by exploitation … which ended up with drivers voting with your feet and leaving.”

The FNV representative added: “Drivers need way more than just a visa and a payslip. A Marshall Plan is needed for the whole of Western Europe to drag this entire industry back to the surface where it needs to be.”

The European Road Haulers Association (UETR), which represents 70 per cent of trucking companies across the EU, has also said lorry drivers who left Britain are unlikely to return.

“I expect many drivers will not return to the UK even if the UK government allows them to,” said Marco Digioia, general secretary of UETR.

“While offering visas to drivers on the continent would be a welcome step, there are many other issues, such as working conditions, pay and the costs of getting into and working in the UK.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said British motorists currently queuing for hours for petrol “couldn’t care less” if tanker drivers are foreign.

“What they want to know is that they can fill up their car or their van and go about the business – so let’s plug those gaps,” said the Labour frontbencher.

Industry leaders have said drafting in the military to deliver fuel to petrol stations across Britain will not on its own end shortages on the forecourt.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chairman Brian Madderson confirmed some training had been taking place “in the background” for military personnel.

But he warned it was not an “absolute panacea” and that there was no “single lever” the government could pull to resolve the crisis.

Some fuel supply brands are seeing pumps run dry at as many as 90 per cent of their petrol stations, according to a straw poll by the PRA.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng announced on Sunday that he was temporarily suspending competition laws to allow the industry to share information so it can target areas where fuel supply is running low.

Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at trade association Logistics UK, told BBC Breakfast consumers must stop panic-buying to ease the fuel crisis while the government implements longer-term solutions to tackle HGV driver shortages.

“There’s the shorter-term panic-buying, which if we go back to our normal amounts and almost relax our behaviour and bring it back to normal then that can calm down quite quickly.”

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