Boris Johnson has issued a new warning to the trucking industry that it cannot be expected to rely on cheap immigrant labor in the future.
Speaking on the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the Prime Minister said he wanted to end the UK’s dependence on low-paid foreign workers and become ” a well-paid, well-qualified and highly productive economy ”.
His comments came after the government announced it was extending 5,000 temporary visas offered to foreign truck drivers amid shortage warnings on the shelves ahead of Christmas.
They include 300 tailored visas for tanker drivers who will be able to enter the UK “immediately” as the fuel crisis worsens in parts of the country.
Speaking on a visit to Leeds General Infirmary, Mr Johnson said the situation on the forecourt was “stabilizing” after days of gas stations running dry due to panic buying.
He said some 200 soldiers, including 100 military drivers, were deployed from Monday to support the supply effort as it was important to take “every precaution possible”.
But as the government monitored the visa situation, Mr Johnson made it clear his determination to resist any further pressure from the transport industry and other sectors to relax immigration rules.
“Of course we keep everything under control, but what we don’t want to do is go back to a situation where we’ve basically allowed the trucking industry to keep up with a lot of low-wage immigration. , which meant that wages were not increasing and the quality of work did not increase, ”he said.
“What’s weird now is that people don’t want to get into the trucking industry, don’t want to be truck drivers, precisely because you have this approach to mass immigration that has kept wages up. low, which maintained the quality of the work. down.”
“I think what the UK shouldn’t do is keep trying to be a low-wage, low-skill, low-productivity economy.
“People don’t want that. They want us to be a well-paid, well-skilled and highly productive economy and that is where we are going.
Earlier, the Petrol Retailers Association said that while the fuel situation was improving in Scotland, the north of England and the Midlands, elsewhere it was deteriorating.
PRA Chairman Brian Madderson, representing independent retailers, said this remained a “really big deal” in London and the South East, where long lines continue to be reported.
He told BBC Radio 4 Today: “In London and the south-east and possibly parts of the east of England the situation had worsened.”
Mr Madderson welcomed the deployment of military drivers, but said it would not be a “major panacea” given the volumes they could carry.
He said the most effective measure would be the “prioritization” of deliveries to gas stations in the worst affected areas.
Mr Madderson also warned that rising global oil prices mean motorists should expect higher prices at the pump when gas stations are restocked.
“Expect an increase of 1, 2 or even 3 pence per liter at the pump. It is not profit. These are real wholesale price increases caused by global factors, ”he said.
The fuel crisis was sparked by reports that a shortage of tanker drivers led to the closure of a number of BP gas stations because they were dry.
Globally, the country is estimated to face a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers.
Ministers blamed the problems on the Covid pandemic which led to tens of thousands of heavy truck tests being canceled last year.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer on Friday warned that the shortages threatened to ‘ruin’ Christmas again.
He called on Mr Johnson to recall Parliament, which is currently suspended for the party’s conference season, so that emergency legislation can be urgently passed to ensure foreign drivers receive their visas on time.