Tesco is offering a £1,000 signing-on fee for lorry drivers who join the company before the end of September, as it scrambles to overcome a desperate shortage of workers that has led to gaps on supermarket shelves.
The bonus has been publicised via a job advert posted on Tesco’s site, with the supermarket telling potential candidates: “You’ll play a vital role for our customers and communities, representing Tesco on the highways and byways of the UK.”
The offer to HGV drivers comes amid frenzied competition for those with a specialist licence caused by a mix of Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and tax changes that have prompted some drivers to leave the trade.
A surge in demand for home delivery has also offered a whole range of alternative employment for drivers, potentially without the unsocial hours of long-distance journeys.
The difficulties have led to empty shelves in some supermarkets around the country, particularly after surges in demand for specific products, such as ice-cream, salad or beer, during hot weather. The problems have been exacerbated by rising Covid infections and drivers, warehouse staff and shop workers needing to self-isolate after being notified by the NHS test-and-trace app.
Retailers have warned they could struggle to meet demand into the autumn after months of supply holdups sent stock levels plunging in July to record lows for a second consecutive month, according to a CBI survey.
Logistics UK, which represents freight owners including supermarkets, has estimated a shortage of 90,000 HGV drivers, including about 25,000 from the EU who have gone home since Brexit. On top of that, there is a backlog of 45,000 lorry driving tests, which are expected to yield about 25,000 drivers.
“Tesco’s action is a great demonstration of supply and demand. We have been warning there is a shortage of drivers and we are now coming to the peak of the school holidays when those drivers who have been working through the pandemic will want to take a holiday with their kids,” a spokesperson for Logistics UK said.
With competition rife, there are now more than four times the number of online job ads for transport, logistics and warehouse workers than there were pre-pandemic, the biggest boom of any sector, according to analysis by the Office for National Statistics released last week.
Industry insiders say drivers’ pay has already risen by between 10% and 20% as a result of competition for workers, but that has failed to yield enough recruits.
The government has tried to ease the problem by extending the number of hours drivers are able to work without a break and loosening restrictions on deliveries in the early morning or late evening. It has also stepped up facilities for training.
But trade bodies say this does not deal with the immediate problem as it can take more than six months to train a new HGV driver. Logistics UK wants the government to offer seasonal workers’ visas to enable more drivers from the EU to enter the UK, particularly over the holiday season when British drivers try to take time off.
Last week it emerged that Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s were asking some suppliers for extra payments to cover increased delivery costs after being forced to raise wages.
Asda wrote to suppliers that use its collection service asking for a 5% rise in payments for transport costs and blaming the national HGV driver shortage.
The UK’s third-largest supermarket said it needed help to deal with a 12% rise in driver costs in some areas.
A letter from Tesco to some suppliers demanded a near 18% increase in delivery payments late last month, more than 10 percentage points of which it said was solely down to increased wages for drivers.
Asda’s detailed letter blamed the shortage of delivery drivers on a mix of Brexit, which has affected the rights of European drivers to work in the UK, and the Covid pandemic, which has restricted cross-border travel and sent many drivers home for extended periods of lockdown, and a shortage of testing facilities.
Some existing drivers have also been put off by tax changes that mean drivers previously treated as self-employed, paying their own tax and being able to offset expenses, must now be paid via PAYE.