Its clear to all that HGV drivers make the country go around. The argument goes that they’ve been underpaid, underappreciated and denied basic human rights. But now they’re calling the shots. Could a Dutch innovation provide a long term solution to the satisfaction of both transport suppliers and driver representatives?
I was in Currys PC World yesterday browsing laptops. I asked about a shiny new model. The sales assistant sighed: “not in stock, no deliveries…no drivers”. It’s not just logistics companies that are feeling the squeeze, the HGV driver crisis is affecting supply chains everywhere.
Last month, we established the sources and possible solutions of the HGV drivers crisis. The food and drink industry called on ministers to introduce a short-term visa scheme. This will allow logistics companies to recruit EU HGV drivers to ease disruption in crucial food supply. So far, its not proved overwhelmingly popular.
Soon many fear aisles will be empty, and the kids will go without on Christmas Day. Scary stuff.
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Much Worse Than A Strike, It’s An Exodus.
While EU residents permanently headed home as a result of Brexit and the pandemic, conditions for the remaining lorry drivers have become worse than ever.
As we covered last week, The RHA (Road Haulage Association) noted that HGV drivers were being denied UN Human Rights like sanitation and access to a toilet. Despite the catalyst of the pandemic, this issue has been brewing for years.
This is also in part due to the rise of gig economy with jobs such as driving for Uber or Bolt, offering similar pay along with a more manageable lifestyle. Working a 70-hour week and sleeping in your truck aren’t many people’s ideal working conditions. Add into the mix poor pay and take away the ability to use the toilets due to a global pandemic – it’s not hard to see why there are less HGV drivers than ever before.
On top of that, the current workforce has an average age of 50 and industry officials warn that a third of existing drivers will be aged out of the workforce in 5 years.
Lorry Driving Is Becoming More Attractive
Reports tell of logistics companies fighting over workers. Companies are offering up to £5k as a ‘sign and retention bonus’.
Wherever tomorrow’s HGV heroes are right now, we need them behind lorries both today and in the future. The yearly salary for a HGV driver has gone from between £28000 and £30,000 five years ago straight to £40,000. Some new drivers have reported earning as much as £50,000.
This makes the margins for logistics companies who hire and manage deliveries smaller. It is inevitable that this will have an effect on the prices of goods at the end of the supply chain.
Paid Apprenticeship schemes with guaranteed jobs at the end seem to be the way to build tomorrow’s HGV workforce. Firms have also considered hiring people who would have previously been unsuitable, like former offenders. Many have said that training entrance requirements need to be lowered, as government funding is only supported for those with a level 3 (equivalent to A-levels) education. Members of RHA are calling for training to be funded from Level 2, which is equivalent to GCSE education level.
In the current climate, driving a HGV should be open to all those who are able to do the job properly. It now offers a better salary than many other entry-level jobs.
With home-working normalised, office jobs aren’t offering the same social environment and second home that it once did. Some are opting to leave office life behind and take on a career in driving. This is especially popular among those in their twenties and thirties.
Tomorrow’s Lorry Drivers, Today
The good news is that there are an unprecedented number of people seeking to become licensed. How many of these will stick around once the incentives are taken away remains to be seen.
Hughes Driver Training, based in Leicestershire, told Sky News it is sending 100 students to be tested for HGV licenses per week. Many have been sent directly by haulage firms looking to fast-trick applicants. Major employers like Tesco, Amazon and John Lewis are giving huge bonuses to drivers, which is fuelling rapid inflation in wages.
HGV drivers that have been in the industry for years have reportedly enjoyed two or three pay rises this year without even asking for it. It’s a struggle to think of any other long-standing sectors that have experienced that kind of growth in recent history.
Training new drivers is the most practical way to get through the crisis, but many believe that temporary visas for overseas workers is the only way to get things from A to B right now.
HGV Drivers Have A Rare Chance To Change The Industry Forever
Adrian Jones of Unite says today’s HGV drivers have a unique power or a ‘moment of leverage’, as he calls it.
Jones wants to see long-term reforms as seen in the Netherlands. An agreement is negotiated between employer and union groups, setting clear rules for minimum pay and working conditions. Edwin Atema from Dutch union FNV says, “This collective agreement becomes law, so it gives transport suppliers the ability to say to their customers: this is law, so I can’t go cheaper than this.
A recent job advert read, “All temporary incentives are at Tesco’s discretion and subject to review, variation and removal.”
Understandably unilateral action in the hope of an instant solution is the chosen course of action for most employers. Offering bonuses that will most likely vanish in the future is only a temporary fix. Perhaps the powers that be could intervene to provide some joined up thinking and a longer term plan?