Omikron exacerbates the shortage of truck drivers

Status: 01/18/2022 08:18 a.m

There is a shortage of tens of thousands of professional drivers nationwide. The omicron variant of the coronavirus has exacerbated the situation. There are many reasons why the job is becoming less and less popular.

Michael Jahn has been a professional driver for a Bamberg forwarding company for 47 years. A lot has changed during this time, both positive and negative. One step forward is the increasingly well-equipped driver’s cab and the truck’s assistance systems. The fight on the street – and for the parking spaces – strikes him negatively. There, Jahn has to fear that thieves will slit open his tarpaulins at night and steal goods, or that petrol will be pumped out.

Time pressure and constant traffic jams

Such risks have also made the profession less attractive for young people. In addition, there is a lack of time, the traffic jams on the motorways are increasing. From the mid-50s, the job takes a toll on the drivers. There is already a shortage of up to 80,000 professional drivers nationwide – and the number is increasing all the time. Every year around 30,000 professional drivers retire nationwide, only 17,000 young professionals follow.

Obtaining a truck driver’s license costs several thousand euros. It used to be possible to do it in the Bundeswehr. The regulations and the bureaucracy are becoming increasingly strict, the image and thus the appreciation of the professional group is low. There are also problems with social dumping, especially in Eastern European companies.

Supply chains under pressure

As early as spring 2020, the driver shortage worsened for the first time due to the pandemic. Drivers from Eastern Europe returned to their home countries, many never returned, finding work in other countries or at home. Now many are missing because they have contracted the omicron variant of the corona virus.

“If you believe the predictions of the virologists, significant parts of the driving staff can be affected, and the supply chains are therefore under additional pressure,” says Dirk Engelhardt, spokesman for the Federal Association of Freight Transport, BGL. “We keep getting partial reports from member companies that drivers are affected, not yet in a massive range, but in the single-digit to low double-digit range.”

In Bavaria, as freight forwarder Rüdiger Elflein explains, five to ten percent of drivers are already sick. That can hardly be compensated at the moment.

“Emergency regions” as a solution?

One possibility is the establishment of emergency regions, the BGL proposes. Similar to the hospital occupancy, Germany would then be divided into different regions. Should there then be a shortage of everyday goods due to the massive absence of driving personnel in a company, other companies could be acquired in order to maintain supplies to the population. The association sees the Federal Office for Goods Transport as the organizing body, which could then redistribute such trips. According to the federal association, this is already an offer to politicians.

New EU regulations are also helping drivers drop out of the job. Since last year, professional drivers are no longer allowed to spend their statutory weekly breaks in the vehicle. The employer must provide accommodation. However, accommodation costs are often deducted from the driver’s expenses, especially in the case of Eastern European haulage companies.

Criticism of companies from Eastern Europe

Furthermore, the duty roster of a foreign truck driver must allow the right to come home after four weeks. But that is a blunt sword, says BGL board spokesman Engelhardt, since it is not an obligation.

“The Federal Office for Goods Transport carries out checks, and it is regularly found that between five and ten percent of the capacities are illegally on the road,” says the forwarder Elflein. Eastern European companies are mostly responsible for this. According to Elflein, if the competition rules were observed, the industry could “put through higher prices and thereby also make the profession more attractive”.

Also new from February 2022 is an EU regulation that requires trucks to return to the forwarder’s country of origin every six to eight weeks. But there is a lack of controls to check all the rules.

Controls are rare

Ukrainian, Romanian or Bulgarian drivers continue to work for little money. Monthly wages of 300 to 1500 euros are the average here. In 2019, the Federal Office for Goods Transport (BAG) checked less than one percent of the trucks on German motorways to see whether all regulations were complied with.

“Here we advocate that the staff at the Federal Office for Goods Transport be further increased and that the controls by customs, BAG and police be further intensified and that we finally get fair competitive conditions on German roads again,” said BGL board spokesman Engelhardt.

The BGL estimates that 40 percent of the European transport market has now been taken over by Eastern European freight forwarders. The German transport and logistics industry wants to ensure more young truck drivers with higher wages. But the costs can hardly be passed on to the client – the competition is too big for that.

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