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What UK industries are suffering labour shortages?

Just a few weeks ago, the news headlines were being dominated by stories of fuel shortages across the UK.

The issue came to a head after oil giant BP was forced to temporarily close some of its stations because of a shortage of tanker drivers, reportedly made worse by the Coronavirus pandemic and Brexit. This led to a knock-on effect across the country, with forecourts running dry and queues causing traffic chaos.

However, while the fuel crisis has now been rectified, there are other industries across the UK which are currently struggling because of a lack of staff, with Brexit being cited as one of the main reasons for this labour-shortage.

The government has made efforts to ensure this shortage is addressed – but is it too little, too late? We at Optimus Law, the UK’s leading immigration law firm, decided to present this brief overview of the sectors that are suffering right now to flag the job opportunities that are available now across the UK as it continues to restructure following the decision to leave the European Union.

The Brexit issue

It’s worth briefly reminding ourselves why Brexit has caused labour issues across multiple industries.

It was relatively easy for UK companies to recruit European workers when the country was a member of the European Union, which allows free movement of people within the bloc. However, following Brexit, Britain shifted to an immigration system that prioritises workers deemed “high-skilled” by the government.

Added to this, we are seeing issues because of ongoing pressures caused by Covid, plus the energy crisis which is causing industries to now openly lobby the government in hopes of getting on the skilled workers lists.

Ongoing labour shortages

Following the recent UK fuel crisis, we are seeing ongoing pressures across the transport supply-chain because of a lack of large goods vehicle drivers.

A Road Haulage Association survey of its members estimates there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified drivers in the UK. That number includes thousands of drivers from European Union (EU) member states who were previously living and working in the UK.

Indeed, driver shortages are affecting a range of industries, including retail. Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, has said that “drivers are the glue which hold our supply chains together,” and has warned of continued disruption this winter.

We are also seeing a shortage of workers across multiple other industries.

Will it be a Happy Christmas?

The poultry trade has been hit hard by the labour shortage, with the British Poultry Council estimating there are nearly 7,000 vacancies across the sector. Farmers are warning of a Christmas turkey shortage because visa changes to allow labour recruitment from abroad have come too late.

And the “perfect storm” of labour shortages, shipping costs and post-Brexit labour regulations could also lead to a scarcity of Christmas trees this year.

According to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, between eight and 10 million real trees are sold in the UK each year – with between one million and three million imported from elsewhere in Europe. Now those supplies could be under threat, pushing up prices for home-grown trees.

The UK’s shortage of lorry drivers means that supermarkets are getting fewer deliveries of everything than they used to, so when they sell out of a particular product, it now takes longer for them to fill that gap on the shelf.

That includes chocolate and other confectionery. Large quantities of sweets are an essential indulgence for many families at Christmas, but some of the most popular selections might be absent from store shelves in the run-up to the festive season.


Among other grocery items sometimes missing from supermarket shelves right now, shoppers are finding they can’t always buy their favourite cuts of meat.

Since the UK’s departure from the European Union, the food sector, like many others, has been struggling to cope with a loss of workers after many eastern Europeans went home.

Pig farmers have been particularly badly affected – they say they are worried they will not be able to sell their animals this year, because of staff shortages in abattoirs.


CNN reports how banks are the latest to sound the alarm. TheCityUK, which represents the United Kingdom’s huge financial services industry, warns that its members were seeing “significant cost increases to securing the high-skilled talent that they need to compete on the global stage.”

“To stay competitive, we must have the best global talent. Without it, we will not be able to innovate in key growth areas like FinTech or green finance, nor build out our international trading networks,” CEO Miles Celic said in a statement.

“The UK must strive harder to modernise its immigration processes,” he added.

The government’s response

The government has announced that up to 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers will be eligible to receive temporary UK visas to limit disruption in the run-up to Christmas.

It confirmed that 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be eligible to work in the UK for three months, until Christmas Eve, with the scheme being extended to 5,500 poultry workers.

However, the British Chambers of Commerce said the measures were the equivalent of “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire”. And the Road Haulage Association said the announcement “barely scratches the surface”, adding that only offering visas until Christmas Eve “will not be enough for companies or the drivers themselves to be attractive”.

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