The UK should grant 10,000 EU lorry drivers visas to solve a labour crisis that has led to shortages of goods on British supermarket shelves, a lobby group says.
Logistics UK, which represents freight firms, says Brexit and Covid-19 caused lorry drivers to leave the UK, but a temporary visa could lure them back.
It said a similar visa scheme granted 30,000 permits for agriculture workers.
However, the government says employers must invest in the UK workforce.
The Road Haulage Association said this summer there was a shortfall of about 60,000 lorry drivers in the UK and it’s recently contributed to shortages of everything from milk to Haribo sweets.
Supermarkets such as Tesco and Aldi have been offering bonuses and other incentives to boost recruitment, but the labour squeeze continues.
Analysis of the latest ONS Labour Force Survey for the second quarter suggests that 14,000 EU lorry drivers left jobs in the UK in the year to June 2020, and only 600 had returned by July 2021.
Alex Veitch general manager of public policy at Logistics UK, said the thousands of EU drivers who left the UK due to Brexit and the pandemic were vital to the movement of goods around the country and beyond.
“Logistics is facing a long-term shortage of staff, which has been made much worse by the loss of our EU workforce,” he said.
“While we wait for new recruits to complete their training, which can take up to nine months, the logical solution would be to introduce a temporary visa scheme to keep the vehicles moving. After all, there is no point in picking and packing food if there is no one available to move it to buyers.”
A government spokesperson said in response to the push for temporary visas: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system and employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.
“We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of tests able to be conducted.
“We have also temporarily relaxed drivers’ hours rules to allow HGV drivers to make slightly longer journeys, but these must only be used where necessary and must not compromise driver safety.”