RSA to tap four more countries to plug lorry driver shortages

New licence swap deals sought with Moldova, North Macedonia, Ukraine and Argentina

The road haulage industry has estimated that there is a shortage of between 3,000 and 4,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and wants more new foreign drivers to help fill jobs. File photograph: Getty

The road haulage industry has estimated that there is a shortage of between 3,000 and 4,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and wants more new foreign drivers to help fill jobs. File photograph: Getty

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The Government has directed the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to look at negotiating potential driving licence exchange agreements with four more countries to help tackle the shortage of lorry drivers.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton has asked the authority to contact the licensing authorities in Moldova, North Macedonia, Ukraine and Argentina about potential agreements that would allow lorry drivers from those countries to drive on Irish roads.

The road haulage industry has estimated that there is a shortage of between 3,000 and 4,000 heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and wants more new foreign drivers to help fill jobs.

The authority is examining a possible licence exchange deal with New Brunswick in Canada. If agreed, it would be the 13th jurisdiction with which the State has a lorry driver licence exchange. Ms Naughton said the reciprocal agreements can take up to 12 months to organise as both parties must be happy that similar road safety standards apply.

“We are working to try and expedite that as quickly as possible,” she said.

Raise the quota

The Fine Gael TD said she had asked the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to raise the quota of 320 employment permits granted to HGV drivers from outside the European Economic Area so there is no barrier to new lorry drivers coming into the State.

To date, 175 employment permits have been issued to HGV drivers, many from South Africa.

“Every country is grappling with HGV driver shortages,” said Ms Naughton.

The shortage of lorry drivers has affected the UK worst of all, with petrol stations running out of fuel because there are not enough fuel tanker drivers on roads to replenish supplies.

Ms Naughton said the shortage was “concerning” for the supply chain but she pointed to the period when Brexit came into effect as an example of how quickly the Irish industry can adapt.

‘Double crisis’

“We are dealing with a double crisis of Brexit and Covid which is throwing the industry into a new space that we need to be dealing with,” she said.

She acknowledged that road haulage was not an attractive business to new-entrant drivers. She said the Government was developing a 10-year strategy to make the industry more attractive to new drivers by examining pay and working conditions, and barriers to entry.

“The perception is that it is a tough job. It is hours, days and weeks away from your family. There needs to be some recognition of that. We want to attract people into the industry and to say that it is a viable and good career with progression in it,” she said.