Temporary UK visas for 10k foreign workers
Some 10,500 foreign workers will be temporarily permitted to work as lorry drivers and in the food sector as UK ministers look to rescue Christmas from supply shortages.
A temporary visa scheme will see opportunities created for 5000 HGV drivers and 5500 poultry workers to take up employment in the UK until Christmas Eve, in a bid to keep supermarket shelves stocked with turkeys and toys and counter delivery difficulties at petrol stations.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes, with the visas available from next month, would "ensure preparations remain on track" for the festive season.
Retailers had warned the government that it had just 10 days to save Christmas from "significant 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".
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 Ministry of Defence is also stepping in to provide examiners for lorry driving tests, who will work alongside Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) employees to help put on "thousands of extra 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.
"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 remain on track," Shapps said.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a global shortage of lorry drivers, although there have been long-term issues in the UK with labour numbers amid an ageing workforce, low wages and poor truck stop conditions.
The government acknowledged this was not a long term solution and said they would continue to support solving the high vacancy rate through improved testing and hiring, with better pay, working conditions and diversity.
One of these measures would be a PS10 million ($A19 million) investment into "skills bootcamps" to train 3000 more people to become HGV drivers.
"HGV drivers keep this country running," Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said.
"We are taking action to tackle the shortage of drivers by removing barriers to help more people to launch new well-paid careers in the industry, supporting thousands to get the training they need to be road ready."
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