Haulage bosses welcome EU expansion

By Sarah ChambersFELIXSTOWE haulage bosses have welcomed the opening up of the European Union to include Bulgaria and Romania as a way of filling the UK skills gap.

By Sarah Chambers

FELIXSTOWE haulage bosses have welcomed the opening up of the European Union to include Bulgaria and Romania as a way of filling the UK skills gap.

The Home Office has launched a package of measures designed to reassure the public that a vast new wave of immigration will not be triggered by January 1's EU expansion.

Among these are that low-skilled workers from the two new member countries will be capped at less than 20,000 a year. However, an unpredictable number will be free to work here on a self-employed basis and will not require visas.

Glyn Davies, chairman of Hanbury Davies, pointed out that the recent arrival of Polish workers had helped his business when the industry was facing an “acute” skills shortage.

“The truth of the matter is that there has been a shortage of skills. There has been a shortage of people who want to do certain jobs, including lorry driving I have to say, because it's become almost an anti-social job because of early starting, late finishing , nights away from home, things like that.

Most Read

“What this is doing is correcting some of that problem,” he said.

“The Government was expecting 26,000 Poles and we got 1million, and in a sense, thank God we did, because there was an acute shortage of lorry drivers in 2004 here, and come 2005 when Polish people started coming, a lot of new drivers came along.”

The company, which employs around 600 drivers, now has around 40 or 50 Polish drivers. Initial language and orientation problems were quickly overcome, he said.

“It's been very successful for us,” he said.

But he agreed with the Government's line about restricting non-skilled migrant labour from the Bulgaria and Romania because of the social complications, he said.

“The problem I have with this is with the EU has come a whole raft of measures like health and safety at work and compliance issues and UK are observing all those to the letter of the law, and there are other countries around that aren't,” he added.

Ian Baxter, managing director of RH Freight, a large UK European freight company which has a major branch in Felixstowe, believed the entry of the eastern European countries into the EU offered great opportunities for British businesses.

“While we may see lots of imports into the UK of items such as engineering components and clothing for instance, on the other hand, we are exporting, amongst other things, electronics, chemicals and consumer goods in the other direction,” he said.

“We also seem to hear a lot of scare stories about eastern Europeans coming over to the UK and taking jobs, but the reality of the situation is that they are in the main providing skills that are in short supply here.”

RH Freight already provides regular freight services to Romania and Bulgaria, and it was not all one-way traffic,” he said.

“My advice to British businesses is to seize the opportunities that are available from the opening up of eastern European markets. There has never been a better time to trade with these countries and to make partnerships with businesses based in this part of Europe.”

John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said the migration of workers was helping to fill a skills gap, but said that more must be done to train the domestic workforce.

“It is clear that business has benefited from migration. Migrant workers are vital for the success of the economy - they help increase investment, innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said.

“But migration is not the total solution to our skills gaps. The Government must continue to invest in upskilling our domestic workforce in order to ensure British businesses can meet their global economic challenges.”

“With the entry of the two new accession Countries, Bulgaria and Romania, the Government is looking at proposals to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian people's right to work in the UK. Therefore whilst business welcomes proposals to establish a managed process of migration in the UK, we need to ensure that any proposals are workable, transparent and effective and will not tie down employers in unnecessary complexity and increased red tape.”