Food shortages will end when workers are better paid, truck drivers say Business News

McDonalds is running out of milkshakes, Nando’s and KFC are struggling to store enough chicken, and the co-op says it faces the worst food shortages in memory.

With the country barely on the brink of famine, it is clear the UK is struggling to get food where it needs to be and the situation looks set to get worse.

The Icelandic boss is among those who have raised the prospect of empty shelves in supermarkets over Christmas due to a continuing shortage of truck drivers.

The debate on the subject has been partly divided along the Brexit fault line. Some voters elsewhere have taken to social media to stress that the UK needs overseas truck drivers. Thanks to Brexit, the argument goes, many of these drivers have now decided to leave because living in the UK is more difficult and less attractive.

Voters on the holiday offer a different diagnosis: Workers in the lowest paid countries were cutting wages in the UK. Drivers in Eastern Europe were prepared to agree to terms their British counterparts would not agree to.

Neither argument addresses perhaps more relevant questions: Why have such low labor standards been allowed by law? Why have they persisted under successive governments of all colors? And what are we doing to improve them?

The causes of empty shelves are also more complicated than a simple shortage of truck drivers, says Ed Sweeney, professor of logistics at Aston Business School.

As the economy began to recover, demand for goods jumped. A huge range of products are scarce, from electronics to garden furniture and children’s toys. The pandemic has changed what we want to buy and suppliers are slow to catch up.

Empty shelves have become a recurring sight in UK supermarkets


These changes have caused a similar headache for supermarket bosses when ordering inventory, often months in advance. Covid-19 has added more uncertainty to an already difficult logistical task: Will overseas travel be allowed? How many people will be in the UK this summer? Will millions of office workers still work from home?

But, while large retailers have had a tough job to do, the current problems are partly of their own accord. Over the course of several decades, power was consolidated in their hands, which allowed them to squeeze suppliers looking for cheaper products into the workshop.

The pressure on the entire food supply chain – from the farm to the meat processing plant, to the truck drivers – has been immense. The workers of this chain have paid the price.

Harrie Vogels, a 67-year-old Dutch-born trucker who has lived in England for 20 years, has seen the gradual erosion of a profession he loves.

Vogels has been behind the wheel of 44 ton trucks for more than four decades. Falling wages have been a problem in recent years but falling conditions and declining respect for one’s profession are the things that really hurt.

While it has always been hard work, many benefits have evaporated. “Life as a pilot is very difficult now. It used to be a lot better, ”he says. “It makes me sad and a little angry.”

Drivers exchanged stories at truck stops, like the colleague regaling him with tales of adventures lasting weeks in Soviet-era Siberia. Now the pressure of work is such that they tend to “sit in their cab, turn on their laptop and fall asleep.”

“I love my job,” he insists. “When I drive in Oban in Scotland there is nowhere to go but through the Highlands it is beautiful and I love every minute of it.”

Harrie Vogels says the way truck drivers are treated makes him “sad and angry”


But there are also the times he is abused by a customer or tells them that they can’t even use the bathroom at the end of a 70-hour work week.

While there was an attractive independence over life on the road, drivers now have their every move tracked in the name of the efficiency of every second.

Vogels describes a situation of almost constant surveillance. Some companies – but not the one he currently works for – have cameras installed in the cabs of their trucks, trained on the faces of drivers around the clock.

“I wouldn’t drive a truck like that, absolutely not, but the young drivers passing by have no choice.”

Employment has also become increasingly precarious. Some drivers are only paid when their vehicle is in motion and it is not uncommon to have to wait for hours at the insistence of the customer.

A number of logistics companies are currently boycotting Lidl because the retailer insists that if a delivery is late, the driver must make a new reservation, which might not be until the next day. In the meantime, the driver and his employer are losing money.

In 2017, it emerged that drivers delivering goods for Ikea were forced to sleep in their trucks because restrictive schedules prevented them from having a choice. Many people outside of the trucking industry don’t realize this is standard practice, Vogels says.

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This notice was published: 2021-08-25 20:26:48

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