The picture is unusual. Right in the heart of London, on Upper Street, the upscale shopping street in the district of Islington, 43 cars are lined up on the pavement along the sidewalk. In the distance: a Shell gas station, of which only three pumps are operational. “I have been waiting for two hours” one of the drivers says annoyingly before rolling his window. Jul, in her thirties, has been patient for an hour already. “I take care of elderly people and I cannot go to them because I have no more gasoline in my car, she is indignant. It is the only open station in the neighborhood and the wait at the nearest station is even longer than here. “
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His sister, Nej, laughs: “It’s still better than running out of toilet paper like at the start of the pandemic. And afterwards, it will be the bread, the water … “ The situation can nevertheless degenerate like last Sunday when drivers came to blows after one of them “burned” the tail.
Shortages in UK media coverage
Queues at petrol stations are making headlines in the UK media. Across the country, the signs “More gasoline” Where ” out of order “ are multiplying near gas pumps, with around 30% of the giant BP’s stations affected by fuel shortages.
No doubt remembering that his Labor predecessor Tony Blair saw his ratings plunge in the polls in the fall of 2000 due to a shortage of gasoline, Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to act quickly. On Monday, September 27, his government announced the lifting of the competition law: oil companies will be able to share their data to find out where the fuel shortages are and fill the stations of their competitors. This measure had already been taken at the start of the pandemic when supermarket shelves had started to empty. The army has also been placed on the alert: 150 military drivers of heavy goods vehicles and tanks will drive tanks if necessary to supply the stations …
5,000 emergency visas valid until Christmas
Over the weekend, the government announced the issuance of 5,000 emergency visas valid until Christmas for heavy truck drivers. The United Kingdom has in fact known for six months a severe shortage of truckers which affects deliveries to supermarkets, restaurants and now gas stations. This shortage affects other countries, especially in Europe.
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But Brexit greatly complicates matters: the vast majority of truckers being independent, it is now almost impossible for foreign drivers to obtain a work visa in the United Kingdom, for lack of a contract, a promise of hiring or with an income greater than € 30,000 per year. The Poles and other Eastern Europeans who left the country during the pandemic could not therefore be replaced, especially as 40,000 HGV license exams were also delayed …
At the same time, many truck drivers preferred to change employers and work for supermarket delivery services, the demand for which exploded during the pandemic. Their new journeys are very localized, the working hours less strenuous and the wages better.
Motorists’ “panic” movement
Boris Johnson, whose Brexit campaign was aimed precisely at restricting the number of European workers in the country, had until then opposed the issuance of new visas, insisted on by the Road Transport Association.
Its ministers argued that with the exit of the European Union, the transport sector should no longer rely on workers from Europe but should train drivers and increase their salaries to make the profession more attractive. The gasoline crisis forced them to reconsider these plans.
The government says to itself “Not worried”. In his eyes, the gasoline shortage is linked to a movement of ” panic “ motorists. The Minister of the Environment, George Eustice, believes that the question of gasoline should be “Quickly resolved”, once things are done “Calmed down” : “The only reason we don’t have gasoline at the stations is that people buy gasoline that they don’t need,” he hammers. The minister’s statements were confirmed by a joint statement from the oil companies. According to them, the current pressure is “Caused by temporary increases in demand, not a national gasoline shortage.”
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On the other hand, the issue of the shortage of drivers – and therefore the delivery of supermarkets – will not be resolved quickly. “Brexit has made supply chains less resilient. It makes it more difficult to hire additional workers to meet increased demand ”, underlines John Springford, deputy director of the think tank Center for European Reform. In the eyes of this pro-European, large domestic markets such as that of the European Union “Are both more efficient and more resilient, because the pool of jobs is much larger”.
Letters sent to all drivers in the country
London has announced its intention to train 4,000 candidates for truck driver positions in the very short term, in part thanks to the support of the army. In the meantime, letters have also been sent to all drivers in the country, to target those who have recently left the profession, to encourage them to get back behind the wheel.
“In view of the large number of offers available, driving can become an entry point for a greater number of positions”, indicates the letter. Before concluding : “There has never been a better time to find the type of truck driver job you want. “
Difficult return for low-skilled workers
1.3 million foreigners are said to have left the United Kingdom due to the health crisis between 2019 and 2020, according to a study conducted by the Economic Statistics Center of Excellence (Escoe) research institute. This is the largest population decline since World War II.
Since December 31, 2020 and the implementation of Brexit, the “Skilled Worker Visa” (skilled worker visa, in French) now required across the Channel imposes strict conditions. To obtain a work permit, it is necessary to prove to the British authorities an employment contract or a promise of employment, an “intermediate” level of English at least, and a higher annual salary or equal to 25,600 pounds, or nearly € 30,000.