Emergency Lorry Driver Visas Won't Last The Full Three Months
The ten and a half thousand visas government is offering to European workers to help abate labour shortages are set to last significantly less than the three month time limit by the time drivers start working.
The government last week announced that 5,000 lorry drivers and 5,500 poultry workers would be able to take up roles in the UK between 1 October and 24 December.
The move, designed to tackle ongoing disruption to supply chains, was a major U-turn, with ministers previously insisting that they would not relax immigration rules in response to the crisis.
However, a government source has confirmed that because of the time taken to put the plan into law — parliament doesn't return from recess until mid-October — plus the several weeks it is expected to take for recruits to be processed means that by the time drivers actually start working, the scheme will not end up lasting a full three months. It is likely drivers won't begin until early November.
Trade body Logistics UK said it was "concerned" by the news, stressing that the three month time line was "much lower than the six months we had requested" to create enough time for British workers to be trained as lorry drivers.
"Our fear is that it is very unlikely that a two month visa will attract EU drivers which would make the scheme impotent," they told PoliticsHome.
"We are seeking urgent clarification from the government on this issue.”
The dearth of lorry drivers, exacerbated by Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in empty supermarket shelves and big names like McDonald's and Greggs running out of certain items, and led to mass panic buying at petrol stations nationwide over the last few days.
The visa scheme is designed to shore up supply chains during the busy run-up to Christmas, when demand for goods rockets.
"We have listened to concerns from the sector and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market," Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Sunday.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is set to reveal more details of how the scheme will work later this week.
Industry groups have expressed their concern about how short the scheme will last in practice in meetings with government.
Labour leader Keir Starmer yesterday called on the government to extend the scheme to six months, describing the current time frame as not "long enough" in an interview at the party's conference in Brighton.
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