EU lorry drivers are unlikely to take up Downing Street’s offer to come back to the UK, according to an official from the Netherlands-based FNV Union.
In response to a tanker driver shortage that has seen many petrol stations running on empty and a £30 purchase limit set up in many places, Boris Johnson's government has introduced a three-month visa scheme for 5,000 overseas drivers.
Yet Edwin Atema, the head of research and enforcement at the union, which represents drivers across the continent, said on Monday that overseas drivers would not be the UK anytime soon.
BBC Radio 4 Today host Mishal Husain asked him: “If the UK can put together a really compelling offer, then perhaps that is a way to attract either people back to the UK or people who have never driven in the UK?”
It's not what Radio 4 listeners wanted to hear but it gets the message across 💀 pic.twitter.com/CXLCdYtOa1
— Jono (@jonoread) September 27, 2021
Atema replied: “The EU workers we speak to will not go to the UK for a short-term visa to help the UK out of the sh*t they created themselves.”
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.”
While Atema’s words suggest Brexit is a major reason behind the driver shortages, it is only one of several factors involved.
The pandemic and conditions working as an HGV driver have contributed to other driver shortages across the rest of Europe too in an industry "plagued by exploitation."
Atema claimed: “The industry is positively regulated, but that is not worth the paper it is written on. There is no enforcement.
“Even the use of toilet facilitation is an issue.”
He alleged “you go back a century” in living conditions as an HGV driver across western Europe, adding: “Companies see drivers merely as extension of the vehicle.”
Atema also suggested that just improving pay would not fix the issues.
He said: “Yeah so in the short-term I think that will be a dead end.
“I think some kind of Marshall plan would be needed to take the whole industry back to the surface.
“In the UK, there is not even a collective agreement for the whole road transport industry.
“It’s still up to individual employers to compete on working conditions.
“And that’s never a good sign to drag an industry back to the surface. More is needed.”
He added: “Pay is an important area, but it is not the only area.“
Another plan to solve the crisis, expected to be considered by Boris Johnson, would be for hundreds of soldiers to be used to deliver fuel to petrol stations running out of supplies amid panic buying and a shortage of drivers.