More than 10,000 foreign workers will be handed permanent UK visas as the government attempts to shore up supply chain issues in the run up to Christmas.
The permanent scheme will cover 5,000 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers – offering them employment in the UK until Christmas Eve.
It is a bid to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and toys, and counter delivery difficulties at petrol stations.
READ MORE:‘If I don’t get fuel, I don’t get paid’ – Another day of disruption as drivers flock back to petrol pumps
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with the visas obtainable from next month, would “ensure preparations keep on track” for the festive season.
He said: “This package of measures builds on the important work we have already done to ease this global crisis in the UK, and this Government continues to do everything we can to help the haulage and food industries continue with the HGV driver shortage.
“We are acting now but the industries must also play their part, with working conditions continuing to enhance and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained in order for companies to retain new drivers.
“After a very difficult 18 months, I know how important this Christmas is for all of us and that’s why we’re taking these steps at the earliest opportunity to ensure preparations keep on track.”
Retailers had warned the Government that it had just 10 days to save Christmas from “meaningful disruption” due to a shortfall of about 90,000 drivers in the freight sector.
Industry groups the Food and Drink Federation and Logistics UK both welcomed the visa changes, with federation chief Ian Wright calling the measures “pragmatic”.
But British Chamber of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith said the changes were the “equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire” as it would “not be enough to address the extent of the problem”.
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The announcement about immigration rules being relaxed to ease supply pressures comes amid scenes of lengthy queues at petrol stations after a shortage of specialised tanker drivers forced some fuel retailers to shut their pumps and ration sales.
The DfT said it recognised that importing foreign labour “will not be the long term solution” to the problem and that it wanted to see investment poured into establishing a strong domestic workforce.
Officials said the Government continued to sustain solving the high vacancy rate by improved testing and hiring, with better pay, working conditions and varied.
Another long-term measure to turn the situation around will see the Department for Education plough up to £10 million into creating new “skills bootcamps” to aim up to 3,000 more people to become HGV drivers.
The free, intensive courses will aim drivers to attempt an entry level HGV licence (Category C) or a more progressive course to function heavier and longer lorries (Category C&E).
in addition as the short-term measure of opening up to foreign workers, the Ministry of Defence is also stepping in to provide examiners for lorry driving tests as ministers look to steadily increase the size of the workforce.
Officials said the loan of MoD examiners to work alongside Driver and means Standards Agency (DVSA) employees would help put on “thousands of additional tests” over the next 12 weeks.
Meanwhile, nearly one million letters will be landing in the coming days on the doormats of people with HGV licences to encourage those who have left the industry to return.
The letter will set out the steps the haulage sector is taking to enhance industry conditions, including increased wages, flexible working and fixed hours, according to the Department for Transport.
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