Analysts say a global shortage of truck drivers has persisted since the middle of the 2000s. In the UK, supermarket shelves are missing goods, McDonald’s restaurants ran out of milkshakes this week and builders cannot access supplies, while iron ore struggles to reach Australian ports for export. The potential consequences are serious.

André LeBlanc, vice-president of operations at Petroleum Marketing Group, a fuel distributor based in Virginia, US, said petrol stations that it supplied had run out of some products about 1,200 times since mid-June because of driver shortages. “You don’t get your toilet tissues and your eggs, that’s one thing. Gasoline stops — it shuts everything down,” he said.

The transport sector’s labour issues have built up over time as multinational companies have driven down supply chain costs. At the same time, the trucking workforce in developed nations has aged — the average truck driver in the UK is 55 — while more jobs have become computer-based. Bob Costello, the chief economist at American Trucking Associations, said the number of drivers in general freight in the US had dropped to 430,000, down from 465,000 people at the start of 2020.

Handout Keith Newton, secretary-general of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport International, said members in Australia and central Asia had reported heavy goods vehicle driver shortages of 20 per cent. Surging demand for goods during the pandemic has increased volumes for hauliers to carry, while accelerated growth in the eCommerce sector has only exacerbated pressures.

“Increasingly, global trade is becoming more complex, consumers want quicker deliveries, and simply there are not enough skilled HGV drivers to handle this demand around the world,” Newton said.

Girteka, one of Europe’s largest hauliers, which plans to hire 7,000 new drivers in total this year, said more employees were needed per truck to allow workers to spend more time at home.  The UK, which has an estimated 100,000-driver shortage, has been hit particularly hard not only by the departure of drivers from EU countries because of Brexit and the pandemic, but also by reform to tax legislation introduced this year that drastically reduced incomes for agency workers. Pandemic-driven backlogs at testing centres have hindered the flow of new drivers, with the UK logistics sector pushing for a stop-gap solution of drivers from EU countries being given temporary visas. Still, there are practical difficulties. “Even if we were allowed to recruit drivers from the EU, there’s a shortage of drivers there as well,” said Rod McKenzie, head of policy at the Road Haulage Association.

Source: Financial Times

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