Friday, February 20, 2015

Road Haulage and Freight Transport Groups Press Government for Action on HGV Driver Shortage

Meeting Today will Pressure Minister to Act Decisively as Germany Defends its Industry Professionals
Shipping News Feature

UK – With representatives of the industry meeting Treasury officials today hopes are high that the alarming statistics which demonstrate a dearth of young talent entering the logistics sector as drivers will finally be addressed by government. Both the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) will set out the case why government funding for firms to train HGV drivers is essential and appropriate. RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett said earlier this month:

“We are asking that funding of up to £3,000 per person be made available and paid directly to the thousands of hauliers who are currently desperate for drivers. We need to break the pattern that has seen the UK under-invest in HGV driving skills and become far too reliant on drivers from Eastern Europe. These critical factors that have resulted in the current shortage of drivers and, if not urgently addressed, will cause a bad situation to get much worse. If the issue is not urgently addressed, within 12 months the 45,000 driver shortfall we are currently experiencing will increase to 60,000. The bottom line is that if the UK doesn’t have enough people able to drive the trucks that keep the economy moving, the economy will not be going anywhere.”

A Parliamentary question from Robert Flello, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on freight transport met with a snub recently when Business minister Nick Boles ruled out the use of student loans to cover training and apprenticeships in the road haulage industry, an idea first mooted by the FTA. He stated that apprenticeship funding was the responsibility of government and employer, not the apprentice, but failed to come up with anything relevant for youngsters interested in HGV driving as a profession.

With regard to today’s meeting the RHA and FTA joined together in issuing a statement in advance to set out their stall, saying:

“The UK is facing a growing, structural shortage of lorry drivers. The clear message from our members is that the Chancellor should be concerned about the impact that this will have, increasingly, on the economy as a whole. It will damage what is an essential service industry and it will hold back growth.

“We calculate that we are 45,000 drivers short now. At least 40,000 will leave the industry over the next two years and yet we are only training at the rate of 17,000 a year. We welcome Chancellor Osborne’s invitation to discuss what urgent measures the government might take.

“The government has asked the industry to develop proposals for Trailblazer apprenticeship funding for new lorry drivers, which it is doing. But that scheme will not go live until September 2017. The industry – and the UK economy – needs a simple, nationally available, readily accessible, funding stream for companies to bridge that gap. We have asked for a scheme that is time-limited for two years.

“That way we can address what is a highly damaging skills shortage and also reduce the industry’s need to source its workforce from outside the UK. The Chancellor has a golden opportunity to fund transformational change in a vital British industry, and we will be pressing that case very firmly today.”

In our recent story on these industry meetings with government we mentioned the situation with regard to drivers from various EU countries crossing borders to work and, in passing, the German situation where the driving profession is held in higher regard than many other countries. This month the RHA, through the DfT and IRU, successfully lobbied to ensure that trucks in transit to other destination countries do not have to comply with the new minimum wage system because it may not comply with EU law as it relates to people and goods in transit.

However the Germans it seems are unwilling to give up their road haulage industry to foreign companies who cut freight rates by underpaying their (drivers as the Germans see it). Despite any EU sanction, any driver entering the country is likely to be subjected to checks which will include detail of his or her remuneration, this applies to vehicles delivering and/or collecting import and export goods, or engaged in cabotage.

German minimum wage rules, applicable to all types of staff working in Germany, including truck and agency drivers, entered in to force on 1 January 2015. This is the first time the country has legislated for a wage minimum and the rate is higher than for neighbouring countries. The regulation imposed a minimum wage of €8.50/hour covering both local and foreign transport operators undertaking haulage in the country, whilst overseas operators with vehicles passing through without conducting any business will not be penalised for paying drivers less than the minimum after concerted pressure from Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and other neighbouring countries.

Photo: Downing Street is no stranger to trucks and truckers, Chris Eubank’s American Peterbilt 379 in 2007.