Written evidence submitted by Cold Chain Federation (LS0064)
Cold Chain Federation response for additional evidence for inquiry into labour shortages in the food and farming sector
The UK’s new immigration rules effectively mean that as of the 1st of January 2021, logistics businesses can no longer recruit workers from outside of the UK as most jobs in the industry do not meet the new criteria. Drivers and warehouse workers do not currently qualify as skilled workers, these roles are not on the skilled occupation list and sometimes they do not meet the minimum wage threshold.
This has impacted logistics recruitment in 2 principal ways:
- Those not claiming or eligible to settled status have left the UK exacerbating labour shortages particularly in areas where there was a high number of European workers, eg. Midlands and East of England
- Vacancies can only be filled with domestic workers which has been challenging during the pandemic with furlough and low unemployment rates. Also, domestic workers are less likely to relocate for logistics work (unlike some European workers) which has meant businesses in rural areas have been particularly impacted and subject to intense local competition.
Assessing the impact of the new immigration rules is complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is difficult to differentiate between EU worker leaving the country because of the UK’s policy and those return to their native countries to see out the pandemic. This should become clearer in the new year as the pandemic becomes less of a factor and those who left as a result, return to the UK.
It is recognised that the Government’s ambition is for a labour market which does not rely on foreign labour, however there are real question marks over how the demands of the UK’s supply chain can be resourced. It will require a fundamental rethink of what we can achieve with a domestic workforce. We are committed to working as an industry to moving to a more domestic workforce however a transition is required for the industry to recover from the current labour shortages.
In September, the Government announced the introduction of a temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers and poultry workers. This was in response to growing calls from industries employing driver’s that the quickest way to alleviate the crisis was to temporarily allow EU workers to return to plug gaps in the critical Christmas period. Nearly all of our members did not progress an application, despite struggling for workers. There were 3 main reasons for this, the scheme was viewed as:
- Too expensive, with a package for the employee needing to include salary, travel costs, accommodation, service, visa and agency fees – a significant expense.
- Too short, the 3-month period made it extremely difficult to find workers prepared to come over for such a short period and was too short to make a real difference to supply chain disruption and make the considerable cost of bringing the worker to the UK worthwhile.
- Too late to have an impact on Christmas deliveries
One company who did place an advert for EU workers under the visa did receive interest, but the company did not have confidence that the workers would actually take up the places, with the risk of incurring considerable expense on visas/agency fees, or that those who did would have an impact on Christmas deliveries as they would have likely arrived late in November, or December and still required significant in-house training and competence testing.
We are starting to see signs of EU drivers with settled status returning to the UK following the pandemic and encouraging figures from the DVLA on the number of new licences being granted for HGV drivers. However, the recovery will take time. A 12-month (or longer) visa would make much of the upfront cost of bringing in extra workers more worthwhile and plug the gaps in the labour market causing acute supply chain disruption whilst measures can continue be implemented by Government and industry to secure a long-term domestic workforce for logistics businesses.