Chicken, milkshakes, candy: They’re disappearing in Britain’s truck driver shortage.

Because of Brexit and other reasons, Britain doesn’t have enough truck drivers, and that’s causing all sorts of items to go scarce.,

Before Brexit, British trucking companies could hire drivers from continental Europe at short notice and with ease.
Before Brexit, British trucking companies could hire drivers from continental Europe at short notice and with ease.Credit…Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Across Britain, a slow-burning problem has ignited into a supply chain crisis in recent weeks as restaurants, supermarkets and food manufacturers warned customers that some popular products may be temporarily unavailable because of a shortage of truck drivers.

McDonald’s milkshakes, Nando’s chicken, Haribo sweets and supermarket milk are among the items that have become scarce in Britain over the summer. But it goes far beyond food: Nearly every industry is complaining about delivery problems. And already organizations are warning that logistics issues could upend the arrival of Christmas toys and the trimmings crucial to family holiday meals.

A long-running shortage of truck drivers has been exacerbated by a post-Brexit exodus of European Union workers. Adding to the problem are disruptions to new driver training because of the pandemic. And for years, the trucking industry has struggled to attract new workers to a job that has traditionally been low paid and required long, grueling hours.

“Ninety-five percent of everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a truck,” said Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry, and estimates that there is a shortfall of 100,000 drivers. “So if there are not enough trucks to go around — and we’ve got reports of big companies with a hundred trucks parked up at any one time — there simply is less stuff being delivered.”

Earlier in the summer, German candy company Haribo said it was struggling to get its sweets into British shops. Arla, a large dairy producer, said it was having to skip up to a quarter of its deliveries. Last week, Nando’s, the popular restaurant chain, had to close about 50 of its restaurants because of a shortage of its famed peri-peri chicken.

The delivery problems are forcing other companies to triage what they sell. McDonald’s took milkshakes and bottled drinks off the menu this week, allowing it to focus on serving burgers and fries.

British shoppers should expect to see even more companies reduce their product options and prioritize their best-selling items, Mr. McKenzie said.

The United States also faces a shortage of truck drivers. Britain’s crisis is similar in that it’s been years in the making, as trucking companies have failed to attract younger workers. The average age of a truck driver in Britain is nearly 50. Six years ago, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport said that just 2 percent of drivers were under the age of 25 and that by 2022 the industry would need 1.2 million more workers.

Then, after the 2016 Brexit referendum, the value of the British pound plummeted, making it less lucrative for continental Europeans — truck drivers included — to work in Britain, prompting some to return to their home countries. That trend was exacerbated by the pandemic, when many wanted to be closer to their families.

When Britain took the final step of leaving the European Union at the end of last year, it meant drivers from continental Europe could no longer be employed at short notice and with ease in Britain.

“Until December there was never going to be a labor shortage because, as soon as there was a sign of one, a company could talk to their agency in Poland or elsewhere and get them to send some people over,” said David Henig, a trade expert at the European Center for International Political Economy, a research institute.

Efforts to fill those jobs with new British drivers have been stymied because over much of the last year, pandemic lockdowns prevented driving exams from taking place. The Road Haulage Association estimates that as many as 40,000 tests were not conducted. Training a new driver takes up to six months.

“It’s getting worse,” Mr. McKenzie said. “No doubt, no question. It’s getting worse week on week.”

A Gucci store in Beijing. China is Cettire's second-largest market.
A Gucci store in Beijing. China is Cettire’s second-largest market.Credit…Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Cettire, a website offering discounts of up to 30 percent on the latest fashion styles, is part of the fast-growing, multibillion-dollar luxury “gray” market.

Unlike the illegal counterfeit goods often found on the black market, the gray market sells authentic luxury products — but at a significant discount, and with no contact with the brands, Elizabeth Paton reports for The New York Times.

Through a practice sometimes known as parallel importing, gray market sellers tend to take advantage of the varying pricing strategies and taxation requirements for luxury products across different regions in order to get certain hot products to those who want them for less.

The price differences between markets can be striking. According to research recently published by Money.co.uk, a customer in Europe will pay a little over $2,800 for an Yves Saint Laurent sac de jour, but the same bag will cost more than $3,700 in South Korea. A shopper can purchase a white Fendi canvas baguette bag for roughly $2,620 in continental Europe. That same item will cost about $3,350 if bought in mainland China.

Taking advantage of such disparities has become big business. Last year, the gray market was estimated to be worth up to 8 percent of the $257 billion personal luxury goods market, said Luca Solca, an analyst at the research firm Sanford C. Bernstein.

“The Cettire business model isn’t illegal — it’s just very good at exploiting legal loopholes in trade regulations,” said Tommy Mathew, a fashion e-commerce veteran. He noted that shipments valued less than $800 can generally be shipped free of import duties to the United States, where two-thirds of Cettire’s customers are. China, Cettire’s second-largest market, has a similar exemption.

“The main reason authorized retailers don’t exploit these sorts of loopholes is because they would likely lose access to products by openly undercutting the brands,” Mr. Mathew said. “Cettire obscures its suppliers to ensure their access to luxury goods while providing plausible deniability to suppliers who engage in this type of practice.”

Now, many brands are working with consultants and local governments to develop new ways to combat the gray market after previous attempts to control the practice — like buying back and destroying unsold stock — led to backlash over sustainability issues.

A Delta Air Lines counter at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday. Starting Nov. 1, employees who have not received a vaccine will have to pay an additional $200 per month to stay on the company's health plan.
A Delta Air Lines counter at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday. Starting Nov. 1, employees who have not received a vaccine will have to pay an additional $200 per month to stay on the company’s health plan.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

Delta Air Lines’ plan to charge unvaccinated employees more for health insurance is an idea that has been widely discussed but is mired in legal uncertainty.

Starting Nov. 1, employees who have not received the vaccine will have to pay an additional $200 per month to remain on the company’s health plan. It is part of a series of requirements that unvaccinated workers will face in the months to come, the airline’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said in a memo to staff.

“We’ve always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis,” he said. “That’s why we’re taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate.”

Every Delta employee who has been hospitalized because of the coronavirus in recent weeks was not yet fully vaccinated, with hospital stays costing the company an average of about $50,000. Like most large employers, Delta insures its own work force, meaning it pays health costs directly and hires an insurance company to administer its plans.

Insurance surcharges may appeal to companies that are seeking a less coercive means to increase vaccination rates, said Wade Symons, a partner at Mercer, a benefits consulting firm. He has had conversations with about 50 large companies that are considering imposing such fees, he added.

Legally speaking, insurance surcharges are more complicated than simple employment mandates, which are widely considered legally sound. Federal law bars employers and insurers from charging higher prices to people with pre-existing health conditions. But the vaccine surcharges are being structured as employer “wellness” incentive programs, which are permitted under the Affordable Care Act. Such programs must be voluntary but can involve rewards or penalties as large as 30 percent of an employee’s health insurance premium.

Under federal law, employers must provide accommodations for workers who cannot receive a vaccine for health reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs.

“This is not rocket science, but it is not easy,” said Rob Duston, a lawyer with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in Washington, D.C., whose focus includes employment and disability issues.

“You are dealing with the overlap of at least three different laws,” he added, referring to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s wellness plan, as well as Covid-19 guidelines. The companies would have to abide by the Americans With Disabilities Act and health privacy laws, too.

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