Industry leaders have called for logisitcs to be given dispensation after Brexit due to its reliance on EU workers. MT examines the issue.

Road transport should be given special dispensation post-Brexit to avoid a skills crunch because of its reliance on EU workers, according to industry leaders.

The call comes following home secretary Amber Rudd’s request last month for a study into EU migration and the UK labour market.

One way to ensure logistics gets the workers it needs, agreed the RHA and FTA, is for HGV drivers to be included on the shortage occupations list.

James Hookham

James Hookham

FTA deputy chief executive James Hookham said: “I am disappointed drivers are not on the list. Driving is a very skilled job that is often overlooked.”

The list, which names those workers allowed into the UK on work visas because of a shortage of UK nationals to do the jobs, is compiled by the Home Office and usually includes roles requiring NQF6 (degree level) or above.

It has traditionally been aimed at workers from outside the EU; within the EU there is currently complete freedom of movement. Roles on the list include engineers, scientists, medical practitioners, artists, teachers, designers and chefs. At present no transport roles are included.

RHA deputy policy director Duncan Buchanan said: “Putting drivers on the shortage occupations list would appear to make sense. The economy needs labour with appropriate skills. Immigration policy should be based on what UK sectors need.”

Brexit stamp

The Migration Advisory Committee will be conducting research for the Home Office, due to be released in September 2018 – six months before the UK’s scheduled date for leaving the EU. In a letter to its chairman, Rudd said she wanted only the “brightest and the best” workers.

Buchanan added: “We need surgeons but we also need bin men – without the bin man the surgeon can’t work.”

End of free movement

“Leaving the single market is not a credible situation,” said Buchanan, but the government seems to be giving mixed messages on the subject. According to the BBC, No 10 had said it would be wrong to suggest freedom of movement would continue as it is now, but suggested free movement may continue in all but name after the 2019 deadline.

Logistics Job Shop MD David Coombes said the end of free movement would be a disaster. “It is critical that EU nationals already here can stay and there needs to be an announcement that free movement will continue,” he said.

Hookham called for a sector-specific deal if the UK ends the free movement of people following Brexit. “Logistics needs longer access to the EU workforce and if we have to we will discuss with government getting a longer period for EU drivers to work in the UK after Brexit,” he said.

But the RHA said a sector-specific deal was not the answer. Buchanan said: “Making a piecemeal decision for which sector is flavour of the month is dangerous; the important thing is to have a well-thought-through policy.”

Will EU citizens be asked to leave the UK?

According to the FTA, 13% of HGV drivers are non-UK-passport-holding EU nationals. Hookham said these workers would be questioning whether they will be entitled to stay in the UK, or if they should go home.

However, the RHA said it did not think EU nationals would be asked to leave the UK post-Brexit. Buchanan said: “Some of our members have highlighted that logistics workers are worried and they don’t want to be forced to leave. But I have not met a person in the UK who has said I want these people to go back, within any sector.

“I am unconvinced anyone will be required to leave the UK, it is not credible and therefore not an issue. Regardless of what deal we get into, it is within the gift of the UK to keep them in the UK.”


The Home Office said it would not comment on individual sectors, but the home secretary said: “There will be a chance for businesses and employers to express their opinions. I would encourage industry representatives to get involved in the process.”

A different kind of conversation

In response, Hookham said: “This is a chance to have a different kind of conversation with government and as soon as it gets into Brexit mode we will be there.

“The FTA will issue a survey or questionnaire to get a scale on how much operators rely on EU nationals.”

In the meantime, he said: “The FTA needs to be at the negotiating table with Rudd, May and Hammond. Logistics needs to be at the top table, this is a cross-sector issue but we run the supply chains on which all other sectors depend.”

  • Recent data from the DfT puts the average number of EU drivers working in UK haulage last year at 38,000. James Hookham said this problem would only get worse without the EU workforce. "We need the capacity of the Ricoh Arena in Coventry to fill the driver shortage, and we will need it again if EU nationals are not able to work as drivers in this country. The sector has responded to the crisis we faced in 2014/15 and it has improved. But the danger is the goo work could get turned down overnight, he said.
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