// Suppliers warn gaps on grocery shelves will continue if the labour crisis isn’t tackled
// Logistics UK calls on the government to extend an incentive scheme for employers to hire apprentice drivers
Suppliers have warned that unless the government does more to address the labour crisis currently hitting haulage companies, gaps on grocery shelves could continue for several months.
Logistics and hauliers’ organisations said August would be a crunch moment in the shortage as workers take summer holidays, while firms offering bonuses and sign-on fees to recruit drivers aren’t helping matters.
The shortage of trained HGV drivers, exacerbated by Brexit and Covid-19, has left wholesalers unable to deliver goods to retailers, with Arla, the world’s largest dairy company, saying it was unable to deliver milk to about a quarter of supermarkets last week.
Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan said the issue was getting worse and said they are “firefighting right now.”
He said they have got a lot of vacancies but also a lot of workers on holiday, explaining that they have a short-term summer problem.
“We’re going to have interruptions on the shelves – we’re resigned to that,” he told the Guardian.
M&S, Aldi and Tesco are among retailers that are offering bonuses of £1,000 or more to lure HGV drivers to work for them.
Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association said firms offering “big bucks” and signing-on fees to drivers are causing a “real problem because all they are doing is buying talent from somewhere else.
Dairy UK said milk collections from farms had continued “despite hauliers being under significant strain”, while many staff working in the dairies themselves were absent because of the pingdemic.
Some Sainsbury’s stores were among those affected by the milk outages but the supermarket said only certain lines were affected and that large quantities were still being delivered daily.
Brennan said the problem would be worse at Christmas.
“It’s been obscured by the pingdemic but that was the superficial problem rather than the ongoing problem – that we are chronically short of the drivers we need at every stage of the supply chain,” he said.
“We’ve seen a massive exodus of non-UK labour during the pandemic and we don’t know if they are able to come back.”
Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive James Bielby said an aluminium supply issue meant products such as soft drinks and beer were becoming scarce, while Brexit-related labour shortages were affecting fresh goods such as meat and milk.
Retailers said there had only been “minor disruption” to supply chains but backed calls for urgent government action.
BRC director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said: “Government must rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, fill gaps by providing visas for EU HGV drivers, and also look for a longer-term solution to this issue.”
Logistics UK has urged the government to extend an incentive scheme for employers to hire apprentice drivers.