Dairy UK called on the Government to heed existing calls made to help resolve the shortage of drivers.
This included clearing the backlog of HGV tests that currently exists, protecting HGV drivers from isolation requirements, bringing forward skilled worker visas for HGV drivers and dairy processing staff to help recruit staff and to promote HGV driving as a fundamental lifeblood of the UK economy.
Dairy UK chief executive Judith Bryans said: “The dairy sector is working around the clock to implement any and all solutions open to it in addressing the shortage of drivers.
“These measures would be far more effective than continued relaxation of drivers’ hours, which is not the answer to the shortage we are seeing, and could become a safety issue for the existing pool of drivers.”
The mass outbreak of self-isolation incidents due to the NHS COVID-19 track and Trace app – dubbed the ‘pingdemic’ – has caused major disruption to the industry. 2 Sisters president Ranjit Singh Boparan has warned it could lead to the worst food shortages in 75 years.
“Like many other sectors of the economy, dairy processors are seeing increased staff absence rates as a result of staff having to isolate as a result of notification through the NHS Covid app,” Bryans added. “Such elevated staff absence rates are a cause for concern and are impacting businesses.
“It is hoped that between the exemption and testing schemes as well as the relaxation of isolation requirements coming mid-August – that absence rates will be reduced, and business can return to normal. This is an evolving situation that the sector will continue to monitor closely.”
Despite hauliers being under considerable strain, the collection of milk from farms has continued.
Impact on waste
As of yet, there has not been any wide scale issues with dairy products being wasted due to the driver shortages. Processors are taking swift action in light of the supply chain issues and diverting milk into other products – such as long life products – to try to avoid creating any waste, according to Dairy UK.
However, dairy giant Arla has already been forced to cut back on deliveries to major supermarkets as a result of the driver shortage.
Chief executive Ash Amirahmadi told BBC News there were 600 stores his business couldn’t deliver milk to and warned of summer disruption.
“It's very worrying for customers when they go into shops and find that the shelves are empty,” said Amirahmadi.
“Our assessment is that we're in a driver shortage crisis and therefore we're asking for the industry and government to work together to recognise we're in a crisis and actually address the issue.”