There’s no magic labour tree, says the FTA (Freight Transport Association), as it publishes its latest report into logistics industry shortages.
The FTA’s Skills Shortage report shows that the industry currently needs 52,000 drivers for logistics businesses to be fully operational – and companies are struggling to recruit them. The FTA says that if British business is to make a success of Brexit, its supply chain needs to have access to European workers in the short to medium term.
Sally Gilson of the FTA, said: “The logistics sector is working hard to attract new homegrown talent but we are competing against many other sectors also suffering skills shortages, which is why we have record levels of vacancies across the sector. EU workers have been welcomed into our businesses and are valuable to their employers. Some choose to live in the UK permanently, others take seasonal positions. Either way, logistics businesses want to retain the right to employ workers from outside the UK – there is no alternative. Just like there is no magic money tree, there is no magic labour tree: the future employment criteria for these vital EU workers must be prioritised to protect the integrity of the country’s supply chain.”
She added: "Having the freedom to recruit from across the EU has helped to keep our lorries and vans on the road but with uncertainty surrounding the parameters of a future immigration system, the logistics sector is concerned that there just won’t be enough drivers available to transport the goods and raw materials the UK is reliant upon.
“The Migration Advisory Committee report recommended restricting lower-skilled immigration: however, logistics businesses are reliant on those workers to keep goods and services moving. Unless domestic workers can be incentivised to switch careers or take up a meaningful apprenticeship in logistics – something which the industry has been pressing government on for a while – businesses will remain dependent on these migrant workers. Without them, goods and services will simply fail to move around the country and across its borders. FTA is urging government to build its future immigration policy on what the UK requires to keep trading, not on a qualification or salary levels.”
The FTA says that at a time when logistics is facing significant skills shortages, the loss of workers from the EU will put further pressure on careers including HGV and van drivers, fork lift operators and warehouse personnel. At the moment, EU workers represent more than 12% of the UK’s logistics workforce.
“Logistics is a flexible, adaptable sector, always willing and able to rise to any challenge placed in front of it,” said Gilson. “With Brexit looming large, businesses are having to prepare for all scenarios – but without knowing what a No Deal outcome could mean for both EU and UK citizens, it is impossible to plan staffing levels effectively. No one wants vehicles to grind to a halt, but it is a real prospect if the government does not prioritise the confirmation of the workforce which is tasked with keeping Britain trading."
The comments come as Prime Minister Theresa May has published a draft EU withdrawal agreement that envisages freedom of movement ending on March 29.