Empty shelves in supermarkets are likely to continue for many months unless the Government does more to tackle the worker shortages hitting haulage firms, suppliers have warned. Several logistic organisations have said that August is a pinch point in the labour crisis as employees take summer breaks. On top of that, firms offering bonuses and sign-on fees to recruit drivers make matters worse.
The situation has also been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And now wholesalers are unable to get goods to shops.
On Friday, a major dairy producer Arla said it could not get milk to a quarter of the supermarkets it supplies.
Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, added that the issue was getting worse.
He said: “We’re firefighting right now. We have got a lot of vacancies but also a lot of workers on holiday.”
He continued: “We’ve got a short-term summer problem. We’re going to have interruptions on the shelves – we’re resigned to that.”
Rona Hunnisett, of Logistics UK, said there was “a pinch point with holidays”.
She added: “These guys have been working flat out since the start of the pandemic.”
Mr McKenzie added: “This is a real problem because all they are doing is buying talent from somewhere else. They are not creating talent.
“We may be paying them more, which is a good thing, but we need new drivers.
“My challenge to the companies is: why not spend some money on recruiting and training new drivers?”
Dairy UK said collection of milk from farms had continued “despite hauliers being under considerable strain”, while many staff working in the dairies themselves were absent because of the “pingdemic”.
Dr Judith Bryans, the organisation’s chief executive, told the Guardian that the government should bring forward skilled worker visas for HGV drivers and dairy processing to help recruit staff.
He added: “This is an evolving situation that the sector will continue to monitor closely.”
Sainsbury’s stores were also hit by the milk shortage, but the supermarket said only some lines were affected and large quantities were still being delivered daily.
A spokesperson said: “We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need.
“While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them on to the shelves as quickly as they can.”
Mr Brennan claimed that the problem will worsen at Christmas.
He said: “It’s been obscured by the pingdemic but that was the superficial problem rather than the ongoing problem – that we are chronically short of the drivers we need at every stage of the supply chain.
“We’ve seen a massive exodus of non-UK labour during the pandemic and we don’t know if they are able to come back.”
James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, said an aluminum supply issue meant products such as soft drinks and beer were scarce, while Brexit-related labour shortages were affecting fresh goods such as meat and milk.
Mr Bielby said: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
“Structural challenges remain and they’ll remain as long as there’s no intervention from government,” he said.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, added: “Government must rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, fill gaps by providing visas for EU HGV drivers, and also look for a longer-term solution to this issue.”
Published at Tue, 03 Aug 2021 12:39:30 +0000