Europe’s truck driver shortage becomes “extremely dangerous”

Steffen Bork sees the 25 or so lorries idle in his family haulage business in central Germany as clear evidence that the shortage of drivers across Europe is reaching an “extremely dangerous” point.

“For months now our business has been characterized by a severe shortage,” said Bork, the third generation in his family to run the business. “Some of our existing customers have overflowing order books. Due to the bottleneck of the conductors, enormous pressure built up.

Bork’s concerns are the latest sign that Europe’s rebound from the coronavirus pandemic is creating widespread friction on the supply side as companies struggle to find enough workers or materials to meet demand growing, slowing economic recovery.

The increase in economic activity after the easing of restrictions on coronaviruses across Europe earlier this year has resulted in a “very high workload for drivers and dispatchers, which in turn leads to dissatisfaction and resignations, ”he said. About 10 percent of his company’s 290 trucks were driverless, he said, adding, “There is strong customer dissatisfaction with our failure to meet deadlines.

The shortage of truck drivers is widespread across Europe, reaching 80,000 in Germany and 400,000 across the EU, according to trade associations. They warn that the situation is likely to worsen due to an aging workforce – the average age of drivers is over 50 – and difficulties in recruiting young people.

So far, however, there is no indication that the impact in the EU is as severe as in the UK, where the military has been deployed to deliver fuel to petrol stations, ports are overflowing with containers. awaiting delivery and some supermarket shelves are empty.

The country’s crisis has been partly attributed to Brexit. The number of truck drivers there fell by 29,000 year-on-year, or 9.5%, in the 12 months to March, according to the Office for National Statistics. More than half of the drop is due to a 36% drop in the number of EU citizens working as drivers in the UK, the ONS said.

“In Germany and across the EU we have the same problem as in the UK, but in the UK it has been made worse by Brexit,” said Dirk Engelhardt, chairman of the German Federal Association of freight transport, logistics and disposal.

Engelhardt attributes the driver shortage in the EU to low wages, the poor image of youth work and the mistreatment of workers. “When drivers deliver to large industrial companies, they are not even allowed to use the toilet,” he said. “They are treated like animals. It must stop.

Horst Kottmeyer, owner of a 300-truck transport company in northwestern Germany, tried to recruit in Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States. “But in the meantime, the shortage of drivers has also arrived in these countries,” he said.

Kottmeyer fears the situation will worsen once automakers and other industry groups recover from shortages of pandemic-related materials, such as semiconductors, that have held back production.

In August, a 17.5% month-over-month decline in German production of motor vehicles and trailers left overall industrial production in Europe’s largest economy 9% below levels before the pandemic.

Others fear that when the stricter EU labor laws on commercial road transport, known as the mobility package, come into force next year, the crisis could worsen. The regulation will make truck drivers eligible for the minimum wage of each member state in which they drive for most jobs outside their home country, to take a minimum number of breaks and return home every eight weeks .

Line graph of% of companies reporting labor as the main limiting factor showing the return of labor shortages in the EU

But Isabelle Maitre, of the French National Road Transport Federation, believes that the new rules will improve the image of the sector and stimulate recruitment. “We are trying to attract more young women to join the industry,” she said.

Labor shortages are also affecting other industries as the eurozone economy rebounds and unemployment falls back to pre-pandemic levels.

The proportion of European companies saying staff shortages were the main drag on activity reached record levels in the industrial and construction sectors in September, according to the European Commission monthly survey.

As in the US and UK, many European restaurants and bars have struggled to hire staff since reopening after coronavirus closures. More than a third of German automakers said they were short of manpower in a recent survey by the Ifo Institute in Munich.

However, the euro area unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in August, well above levels in the United States or the United Kingdom. Economists say labor shortages in the region are expected to ease as people who left the workforce during the pandemic seek jobs, leave plans expire and travel restrictions remain. Covid-19 are lifted.

Line graph of (% of the labor force in the euro area) showing the rebound in the labor market in Europe

Enzo Weber, head of research at the Nuremberg Institute for Employment Research, said his index of labor shortages in Germany remained below pre-pandemic levels, despite a sharp increase since spring. “We have had a serious shift in migration since Brexit,” he said. “The new migrants don’t go to the UK anymore, they go to Germany, France or other countries and these jobs like builders and truck drivers are usually done by migrants.”

And while the shortage of drivers in the UK has resulted in the hijacking of ships from the main UK port of Felixstowe as it is full of containers, the three major EU ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg say they are confident of be able to manage their exceptionally high standard. freight volumes.

For German truck drivers, the UK’s problems have been positive in at least one sense – raising awareness of how bad things can turn out if labor shortages are not addressed. “The current situation in the UK is really helping us,” Engelhardt said. “The government is afraid the same things will happen here. “

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