Iceland has been forced to cancel 250 store deliveries a week as it is caught up in a national shortage of lorry drivers.
This is a 15% fall in the normal level of deliveries, and is happening because Iceland has vacancies for 100 drivers.
Iceland managing director Richard Walker said: "Nationwide, the UK is currently short of at least 100,000 HGV drivers – the truckers we all rely on to keep us supplied with our food and other daily needs.
"This is due to a combination of factors, including our historic failure to value this essential work correctly, but the largest single challenge is this: while everyone else can clearly see that we have a massive shortage of HGV drivers in the UK, the government refuses to acknowledge the problem and classify them as ‘skilled workers’ for immigration purposes."
Walker said that unless government acts now, the UK will see big gaps on supermarket shelves in the run-up to Christmas.
To help ease the problem, some of Iceland’s six distribution centres have started using ‘class 2’ drivers rather than HGV drivers.
Class 2 licences allow drivers to handle smaller and more rigid lorries, whereas class 1 drivers operate larger HGVs.
© Getty Images/iStockphoto Truck Driver Wearing a High Visibility Vest and Red Seat Belt view from the front with the Driver looking Right with the interior of the Semi Truck Lockers behind.
The driver issue is also affecting Iceland's suppliers. Walker said every day around 10% of the stock Iceland expects to receive never turns up.
Walker also criticised the “Westminster bubble” for making ballets dancers and classical musicians 'skilled workers' for immigration purposes but not lorry drivers.
“I’m a big fan of culture myself, but I can’t help feeling that getting food on our tables really ought to take priority here,” he said.
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Walker said Iceland's logistical partner is setting up a driving school to train new class 1 HGV drivers.
But there is a six-month wait for trained drivers to get their driving test.
Walker also said more young people should be encouraged to become drivers.
“Amazingly, the average age of a British truck driver is currently over 55,” he said. “A job that comfortably pays £40,000 per year – nearly 30% above average earnings – should appeal to many. That it clearly doesn’t is a reflection on the lack of respect we show to those playing this vital role in our society.”
Iceland has about 1,000 stores across the UK.
Earlier today transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that plans to tackle the shortage of HGV drivers will go ahead.
This follows a summer consultation that was held to draw up ideas on how the crisis would be solved.
The measures all involve changes to driver tests, rather than working conditions and pay - two other factors that are also said to be contributing to fewer drivers on the road.
Shapps said: "Over the summer, we consulted on three measures which will substantially increase the number of vocational driving tests available.
"I can announce today, September 10, 2021, that we will proceed with the measures we consulted on."