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The British Road Haulage Association (RHA) is very concerned about the government’s plans to limit the immigration of European Union citizens to Great Britain. Representatives of the transport industry say that the „Government risks wrapping business in red tape and over-restricting the movement of labour needed by businesses.” Meanwhile, the EU Council summit on Brexit is due to start today, and media reports show that there is still no agreement between London and Brussels.

This information was provided by Michel Barnier, EU negotiator for the United Kingdom exiting the European Union.

At the end of September, Theresa May, the British prime minister, presented the immigration plan after Brexit. The new system is aimed at granting visas only to qualified employees who exceed a certain minimum income. In addition, EU citizens will not receive any preferential access to the British labor market. RHA warns that the new system will endanger the transport industry.

The use of an arbitrary limit-based on wages to limit movement of labour is badly mistaken for our sector and many others – comments Richard Burnett, CEO of RHA. – The effects will not be gradual – they will be immediate,” warns Burnett.

RHA is in favor of a solution that allows fully qualified truck drivers to work in the UK.

Not only the transport sector criticizes the new proposal of Prime Minister May. Business leaders from other branches of the British economy, such as construction, agriculture and hospitality, are also concerned about the proposed system. However, the government is already thinking about a pilot program that would allow non-EU workers to perform seasonal agricultural work in the UK, according to BusinessTech.co.za.

Transport has to fight for employees on its own

Although the UK is already short of drivers, no similar plan has been announced to alleviate the increasingly serious shortage of personnel in the transport industry.

We are deeply concerned that if no exemptions are granted and no funding to train our own workforce is provided, then the wheels of the industry that puts food on the shelves and facilitates manufacturing output will, quite simply stop,” regrets Richard Burnett.

The head of RHA also admits that this is another serious blow to the sector and points to the continuing inability of the government to deal with the problem of the lack of drivers.

The driver shortage is getting worse, yet the Government proposes to adopt a system that will make it even harder to recruit the people we need to keep the economy moving,” says Burnett.

The head of RHA also claims that the increasingly difficult situation in the heavy transport sector is already causing changes in the supply chain. Suppliers are increasingly using light commercial vehicles – a much less regulated sector.

„That’s bad news,” Burnett said. – This means that drivers carry goods over long distances, but they are not subject to the regulations regarding drivers’ working hours that protect them and other road users – he explains.

The figures confirm the concerns of the British transport industry

RHA also draws attention to the fact that the Government’s previous statements on EU citizens who are already in the UK are not clear enough to retain workers. Some people are leaving because of the lack of transparency in the regulations. For this reason, the shortage of drivers in the transport industry may be exacerbated. Without support for the sector, this phenomenon may become long-term, because those who leave may not come back.

Data published by the British Statistical Office show that from June to August this year there was a record drop in the number of employees from the European Union employed in Great Britain. In the summer season, 86,000 fewer citizens from the EU worked in the UK than in the same period in 2017. This 3.6-percent decrease concerns employees mainly from eight EU countries, including Poland and Hungary.

As reported by Bloomberg.com, the reason for this state of affairs is, among others, the weakening of the British currency. This means that earnings from the UK are worth less than before in countries where the employees come from. Additional elements are the uncertainty and lack of prospects related to Brexit.

Why are employees from the Union so important for British transport?

The latest estimates show that over 43,000 truck drivers from the EU work for British companies. Carriers are currently „strongly reliant” on the continuous influx of foreign drivers. In addition, approximately 30,000 delivery vans drivers and 113,000 warehouse employees from across the English Channel are employed in the UK.

UK haulage operators, employing foreign drivers are making a massive contribution to the economy – they’re helping to move 98% of our food and agriculture!” says Richard Burnett.

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Currently, there is a lack of 52,000 truck drivers in the UK.  RHA predicts further shortages. According to the association, 60,000 truck drivers from Eastern Europe work for British companies. If their work permits expire after March 2019, British companies may have serious staff shortages.

Photo: Flickr.com/ArnoMikkor/CC BY 2.0

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