In case you’d somehow managed to miss it, Brexit is now happening. Even though it’s now been almost four years since the referendum, it’s still unclear what Brexit is going to mean in practical terms. Theoretically, we could still have a “soft Brexit”, of some description, such as joining the EEA. Alternatively, we could end up “crashing out” with a “ no-deal Brexit”. In the latter case, freedom of movement would cease to apply and general immigration rules would apply to all non-UK residents. This is a worry for the haulage and logistics industry.
The haulage and logistics industry is already suffering from a labour shortage
According to a report by the Freight Transport Association, the UK is already short almost 60,000 HGV drivers. To make matters worse, almost two-thirds (60%) of existing drivers are aged over 44, whereas less than a fifth (19%) are under 35. In other words, the haulage and logistics industry is increasingly dependent on an ageing workforce.
At present, EU workers are helping to plug labour gaps
Again, according to figures from the FTA, 64% of transport and storage businesses are already having to deal with severe skills shortages and that’s with access to EU workers who currently form 13% of the workforce in the haulage and logistics industry. It is therefore hardly surprising that the FTA is publicly expressing concern about what will happen if this labour supply is suddenly cut off as a result of Brexit.
EU workers who leave the haulage and logistics industry could be very hard to replace
EU workers who have lived and worked in the EU for at least five years could apply for settled status and, essentially, keep calm and carry on. It is, however, a very open question how many of them will wish to do so.
Common sense suggests that at least some of the EU workers who have the right to settled status will have made lives for themselves here and want, or even need, to stay. For example, they may be in relationships with UK nationals who have family commitments here. That does not, however, mean that they will stay in the haulage and logistics industry indefinitely. This raises the question of how they will be replaced if they leave.
Likewise, common sense would also suggest that at least some of the EU workers who have the right to settled status will choose to leave of their own accord for various reasons. Some of them may be persuaded to stay if the post-Brexit UK economy does well, but even if this is the case, some of them may leave anyway for personal reasons such as their own family commitments. Again, this raises the question of how to replace them.
More immigration, more training or both?
Under the proposed post-Brexit immigration rules announced last month, many essential roles in haulage and logistics would be classed as “low-skilled” and hence closed to EU workers. The FTA is greatly concerned about this and has asked Boris Johnson to “reconsider his post-Brexit immigration policy immediately” because it would be “detrimental […] on the very businesses charged with keeping the UK trading”. It has pointed out that “without adequate levels of staff, operations will become strained and UK plc will inevitably suffer.”
The FTA has further argued that if the UK government does insist on applying strict immigration rules then it needs to do more to fund training for essential roles in the haulage and logistics industry as “the burden should not solely lie on UK businesses.” and “to realise it is not just academically trained workers that hold value.”. Only time will tell if the UK government listens to the FTA’s advice.