McDonald’s runs out of milkshakes, Nando’s and KFC are struggling to stock enough chicken, and the co-op says it faces the worst food shortage in memory.
The country is rarely on the verge of famine, but it is clear that Britain has problems getting food to where it is needed, and the situation seems to get worse.
Iceland’s boss is one of those who made it more likely that supermarket shelves would be emptied at Christmas due to the continuing shortage of truck drivers.
The discussion on this topic is partially divided along the Brexit fault line. Some remaining voters used social media to point out that Britain needed a foreign heavy-duty truck driver. Thanks to Brexit, the discussion goes on. Many of these drivers have now decided to leave because life in the UK is more difficult and less attractive.
Voters on vacation offer another diagnosis: workers from low-wage countries were curbing wages in the UK. Drivers from Eastern Europe were willing to put up with conditions that their British counterparts would not.
Neither argument is probably involved in a more appropriate question: why was such a low labor standard allowed by law? Why did they survive under successive governments of all colors? And what is being done to improve them?
Edsweeney, a professor of logistics at Aston Business School, explains that the cause of empty shelves is not only a shortage of truck drivers, but more complex.
Demand for commodities surged as the economy began to recover. There is a huge shortage of products, from electronics to garden furniture to children’s toys. Pandemics change what we want to buy, and suppliers are spending time catching up.
These shifts often caused similar headaches months ago when supermarket bosses ordered inventory. Covid-19 adds more uncertainty to already difficult logistics tasks. Are overseas trips allowed? How many people are there in the UK during the summer? Are millions of office workers still working at home?
But while the big retailers have done a lot of work, the current problem is partly their fault. Over the decades, power has been integrated into their hands, allowing them to squeeze suppliers in the pursuit of cheaper goods on the shop floor.
From farm gates to meat processing plants to heavy truck drivers, the pressure on the entire food supply chain is immeasurable. Workers in the chain are paying the price.
Harry Vogels, a 67-year-old Dutch-born truck driver who has lived in England for 20 years, has experienced a gradual erosion of his beloved work.
Vogels has been the handle of 44 ton heavy trucks for over 40 years. In recent years, wage declines have become a problem, but the decline in conditions and respect for occupations have been a major blow.
It has always been a tough job, but many of the perks have evaporated. “Life as a driver is very difficult now. It used to be much better,” he says. “It makes me sad and a little angry.”
The drivers were exchanging stories at the truck stop, like a colleague who threatened him with a story of a week-long adventure to Siberia during the Soviet era. Today, work pressure tends to “sit in a taxi, turn on your laptop and fall asleep.”
“I love my job,” he claims. “When you drive to Oban, Scotland, you have to drive through the Highlands. It’s beautiful and I love it every minute.”
However, after that, customers may be abused or even told that they cannot even use the toilet at the end of 70 hours of work per week.
Previously there was a fascinating independence about life on the road, but drivers are now tracking all movements in the name of emitting every last second of efficiency.
Vogels describes a nearly constant surveillance situation. Although not the company he currently works for, some companies have 24-hour driver-face-trained cameras installed in truck cabs.
“I never drive such a truck, but young drivers passing through have no choice.”
Work is becoming more and more unstable. It is not uncommon for some drivers to be paid only when the vehicle is in motion and have to wait hours at the customer’s claim.
Many logistics companies are currently boycotting Lidl. This is because retailers insist that if delivery is delayed, the driver must make a new reservation. Meanwhile, the driver and his employer are losing money.
In 2017, it became clear that drivers delivering goods to IKEA were forced to sleep on their trucks because the schedule of penalties meant they had no choice. Many people outside the truck industry are unaware that this is a common practice, Vogels says.
“My taxi is my home, it’s my office, it’s my kitchen, it’s my bedroom, and it’s my workspace.”
He describes his truck as “very comfortable” compared to other trucks. There is a microwave, refrigerator and freezer.
Other drivers say that the comfort of such a home is standard on heavy-duty trucks in mainland Europe, but is often advertised as a selling point by British companies.
Lack of facilities is also a big problem in the UK. Drivers complain that some stops are not allowed to use the facility. This worsened during the pandemic, Vogels says. “It’s against human rights. They have to send you to the bathroom!”
Leslie Male left the industry to become a welder after being dissatisfied with the conditions. “For most blue-collar jobs, your employer is responsible if you fail,” he says. “It’s not the case with trucks. If you violate the law, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s your butt, and often your home.”
Tomasz Oryński, a driver and journalist who emigrated from Poland to Scotland in 2005, says the outflow of drivers from Eastern Europe leaving the UK began before Brexit. As the standard of living in Poland improved, truck driving became less attractive to Poles in the UK. The current driver shortage has been “brewing for a long time,” says Oryński. “It’s not just Brexit and Covid.”
He believes that working conditions in Britain are also worse than in other European countries. A Polish friend living in Finland works in a shift pattern of two weeks on and one week off, but in the UK it is much more difficult to predict the time.
“You might turn the day and night upside down four days on, four days off, and two days later. If you want to live a social life or meet your family, this job isn’t for you.”
Most supermarkets use agencies to hire drivers, making employment conditions more volatile, Oryński says. “I don’t know if I have a job next week.”
Retailers claim that driver shortages are not primarily about poor conditions, low wages, or precarious work. The UK Retail Consortium, whose largest member is a major supermarket, points out the unprocessed portion of a pandemic driver’s license test. This means that the aging workforce cannot be replaced. However, it does not mention why the labor force is aging in the first place.
Retailers are seeking government support to train more drivers and grant temporary visas to EU workers. They are also pushing up wage rates. John Lewis increased his annual salary by £ 5,000, Tesco offered up to £ 1,000 in contracts, and other companies promised to pay for training. This is the cost that the driver was responsible for.
But it takes time to raise salaries and where to train to attract the tens of thousands of new workers currently needed to do jobs that have long been seen as unattractive to young people in Britain. Limited.
As Iceland’s managing director said, we now need more drivers to start hoarding for Christmas.
Vogels believes that training people in time is simply infeasible. He took two years to train in the Netherlands. During that time, he says he was taught “every aspect of working in transportation.” He fears that an army of new drivers could endanger safety in just a few weeks of instruction.
There is a more fundamental problem for Oryński. For years, British shoppers have enjoyed the benefits of a low-wage, undervalued workforce.
“That day is gone. If you want to solve a problem [of food shortages] You have to pay more to the workers, which is seen in supermarket prices. I have no other choice. “