The letter was sent by the Environmental Services Association’s (ESA) executive director Jacob Hayler with approval from groups representing local authorities, waste company companies and recycling business.
In the letter, Mr Hayler estimates that the UK is currently short of 100,000 HGV drivers “across the economy”.
He adds that the ESA’s members are currently reporting an average of 15% vacancy rates for driving roles.
To ease the crisis, the signatories are calling for a two-year derogation to the points-based immigration rules for trained HGV drivers.
Mr Hayler writes: “We recognise government’s attempts to address short-term resourcing pressures through relaxations to driver hours rules, but we are concerned that this will have negative health and safety implications.
“We therefore believe that HGV drivers should be recognised as an important shortage occupation with a two-year derogation to the points-based immigration rules for trained HGV drivers – allowing our sector, as well as others across the economy, sufficient access to a wider pool of drivers while we recruit and train the next generation of domestic drivers.”
The ESA is the trade association representing the UK’s resource and waste management industry.
Countersigned by representatives from several private waste management firms and other trade associations, the letter is addressed to transport secretary Grant Shapps and environment secretary George Eustice as well as home secretary Priti Patel.
In what one company called the waste sector’s “biggest challenge of the pandemic yet”, a national shortage of staff has caused a wave of disruption to services such as collections in recent weeks (see letsrecycle.com story ).
The shortage has been attributed in part to self-isolation regulations causing a ‘pingdemic’ and to tough, new immigration rules after Brexit.
In the letter, Mr Hayler describes the waste sector as providing “vital services” which are “critical to the economy as well as protecting public health and the environment”.
He says the shortage of drivers could hinder the sector’s ability to deliver upon the government’s resource-efficiency and environmental ambitions “in the longer term”.
And, while welcoming recently introduced measures to increase driver-testing capacity, he cautioned that these would take time to deliver the required numbers and that immediate relief was “urgently” needed for “this acute situation”.
Mr Hayler also said it was proving “very challenging” to fill the resourcing gap “given the dynamics of this labour market”. This is thought to be a reference to the fact that HGV drivers in the waste sector earn less compared to those carrying out similar roles elsewhere and face more challenging driving conditions. Retail is also thought to be seen as a more attractive sector (see letsrecycle.com story).
A full list of the letter’s signatories can be seen below: