The army as reinforcements. The British government announced, Wednesday, September 29, that 150 soldiers were being trained to respond to the lack of manpower which affects the country and causes shortages in several sectors. “Dyears the next few days people will see soldiers driving the tanker fleet “, guaranteed the Minister of Enterprises, Kwasi Kwarteng, as the queues multiply in front of dry gas stations. What products are affected by these shortages? And how to explain this phenomenon which has persisted for several weeks? Franceinfo deciphers the situation in the United Kingdom.
Which sectors are affected?
The UK has faced a serious labor shortage for several months. According to a study by the company Adzuna relayed in early August by Le Figaro, the number of online job offers jumped 40% in five of the twelve regions of the country, compared to 2019. A deficit of employees that affects many sectors, including freight transport.
As a result, several companies have encountered difficulties in obtaining supplies since the summer, reports the Sky News * channel. The fast-food chain KFC had to remove certain dishes from its menu when McDonald’s was deprived of milkshakes and certain drinks. In short supply of chicken, the Nando’s chain was forced to temporarily close about fifty of its restaurants. As for supermarkets, several groups have seen their shelves empty for lack of deliveries, especially poultry, drinks and dairy products. And several pubs even ran out of beer.
At the end of September, the shortage also spread to gas stations. The BP group announced Sunday, September 25 that a third of its stations were out of fuel, according to Le Figaro. On the side of the association of fuel distributors PRA, which represents 5,550 independent stations, two-thirds were dry on the same date and “the others, almost”, adds the daily.
Fearing that they will not be able to carry out their missions because of this shortage, essential workers on Tuesday called on the government to “prioritize access to service stations”. “Paramedics, nurses, caregivers, teachers, police officers and other essential workers should not find themselves stranded or forced to queue for hours to refuel.”, warned Union Unison on Sky News *. Doctors are also worried about the consequences for their patients if they have to spend part of their days in queues, while some schools are questioning the possibility of returning to distance education if the shortage persists , reports France 24.
How to explain these shortages?
Several factors are behind these supply difficulties. As for fuel, the government assures us that the shortage is mainly due to a movement of panic: for fear of running out, the British rushed to the service stations which found themselves dry. But the latter are now struggling to refuel, due to a lack of truck drivers to deliver the fuel.
According to the transport federation, the United Kingdom has a deficit of 100,000 drivers. The executive ensures that this lack of manpower is first of all the consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the training centers to close for several months and caused the cancellation of 40,000 exams, notes France 24. Successive confinements have also prompted certain European drivers to return to their country.
But this phenomenon was accentuated by Brexit, which entered into force on January 1. The transport federation estimates that 20,000 European drivers have left their jobs because of the divorce between London and Brussels. At the same time, the post-Brexit migration policy “was designed to reduce the number of low-skilled workers coming to the UK”, reports CNN *. “Labor shortageswork might have been less stringent if the UK had maintained the free movement of people “, says a researcher interviewed by the American channel.
Another consequence of Brexit: the import of products is much more complex, and therefore expensive. The president of the supermarket chain Marks & Spencer, quoted by Le Figaro, explains thus having to fill out 700 pages of documents for each of its trucks which presents itself to the customs controls. This phenomenon is added to the supply difficulties and the rise in prices caused by the pandemic. The lack of containers in Asia has thus multiplied by ten the costs of transport to the United Kingdom, reports the BBC *.
Why is it likely to get worse as Christmas approaches?
The retail sector is already beginning to worry about a worsening of the situation as the holiday season approaches. Large retailers fear “from stockouts on food and soaring prices for Christmas, a situation made worse by soaring gas prices “, report Le Figaro. UK fears more particularly to a shortage of turkeys, a traditional holiday dish, because poultry farms have reduced their production due to lack of labor.
Fir trees could also be difficult to find, due to difficulties in importing conifers produced in the EU, notes the Guardian*. Not to mention toys, made mainly in Asia and whose transport times and costs have skyrocketed because of the pandemic. Clearly, the Christmas holidays are coming “gloomy” this year, summarizes the British daily.
What is the UK government doing to remedy this?
So far, Downing Street has mostly offered interim solutions to the labor shortage. In addition to the mobilization of 150 soldiers to make up for the lack of truck drivers, the executive has undertaken to issue up to 10,500 temporary visas for foreign workers. They would be valid for three months, from October to December, the time to train British truck drivers. The government has also encouraged employers to increase wages to make these jobs more attractive.
Insufficient responses, for the opposition as for certain players in the trade sector. The Food and Drink Federation, which represents more than 800 companies, estimates that food shortages could become recurrent due to the lack of manpower, according to the BBC *. The president of the British Chamber of Commerce also told CNN that temporary visas will not be “not sufficient to address the scale of the problem currently affecting supply chains”. For her, the government “try to put out a fire with a glass of water”.
Boris Johnson nevertheless assured Tuesday that the situation “improved” at least on the fuel front, thanks to “deliveries [reprenant] in a normal way “. According to Guardian*, the PRA has confirmed that only 37% of the service stations it represents are now dry, against two thirds on Sunday.
* Links marked with asterisks refer to content in English.