Could Germany see a fuel supply crisis like the UK?

An empty petrol station in Ferring, the UK, on October 1st. The UK has been battling a fuel shortage due to a lack of tank drivers.
An empty petrol station in Ferring, the UK, on October 1st. The UK has been battling a fuel shortage due to a lack of tank drivers. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PA Wire | Michael Drummond
Petrol stations have been running dry in the UK due to a supply crisis fuelled by too few truck drivers. As Germany has a worker shortage, could this happen here too?

Fears of shortages have led to panic buying at petrol stations across the UK, with retailers running out of supplies. 

It’s not down to a worldwide petrol crisis – instead it’s about a lack of truck drivers which mean many petrol stations are not getting supplies through quick enough. 

Part of the reason is Brexit which saw many European drivers return to their home countries, or move somewhere else. It’s also said to be down to the pandemic and older drivers retiring. 

It’s hard to imagine a situation like this in Germany. However, industry experts say it’s not out of the question. 

“It can happen in Germany, too,” Jürgen Ziegner, Managing Director of the Central Association of the Tank Industry, told regional newspaper RP Online last week. 

“If nothing changes, we will have this situation here in four or five years.”

According to Ziegner, there could be supply bottlenecks in Germany, and petrol stations could run out of supplies – because there are too few truck drivers.

“We have a shortage of between 60,000 and 80,000 lorry drivers,” said Martin Bulheller of the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal (BGL).

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This is a problem across Europe and the world, because the industry is lacking new employees. 

According to Bullheller, the lack of lorry drivers is already leading to trucks standing idle in the yards of haulage companies in Germany. It’s not because there are no goods, but there are no drivers to deliver the goods.

Every year about 30,000 truck drivers retire, and just 15,000 new drivers are taken on. So the crisis, which is already evident, will get bigger if no countermeasures are taken, Bulheller said.

READ ALSO: What Scholz’s Brexit comments tell us about Germany’s next potential leader

What are the reasons for this?

Last week the Social Democrats’ chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz commented on the fuel and supply crisis in the UK after he was asked by a journalist if he would be prepared to send German lorry drivers to fill vacancies. 

Scholz gave a calm and confident response highlighting the benefits of being part of the EU and having freedom of movement, which the UK chose to leave. 

He also added that the UK’s lack of drivers “might have something to do with the question of wages”.

So where does Germany stand on wages?

The BGL’s Bullheller believes the salary for truck drivers in Germany will get better because of the shortage of drivers, and to some extent this has already happened.

“The market economy works here,” he said. Truck drivers in Germany earn about €1,400 to €3,300 gross per month, depending on the tariff area and professional qualifications.

According to the collective bargaining register of North Rhine-Westphalia, drivers in the forwarding, logistics and transport industry earn €13.54 an hour, so with a 40-hour week they get a monthly wage of about €2,166.

The question is whether the pay is enough to combat the shortage.

But there is another big factor – working conditions “are not the best,” said Bulheller.

Truck drivers are often on the road for days at a time apart from their families.

The question is whether the pay is enough to combat the shortage.

Regardless, petrol station representative Ziegner says Germany needs to take action.

“Something has to be done about the driver shortage. But what needs to be done, I can’t tell you,” he said.

The BGL association published a five-point plan. In it, it calls on the new federal government to stipulate certain measures in a coalition agreement. The profession should be classified as system-relevant, and improved trucks that are more comfortable for drivers should be approved.

Other demands include improved recognition of qualifications from abroad.

More than 20 percent of truck drivers in Germany are now people from abroad, the BGL says.

READ ALSO: Germany needs ‘400,000 immigrants a year to fill jobs’

“If we didn’t have foreign truck drivers, we would already have a big problem,” said Bullheller. 

Bullheller also sees the consumer behaviour of Germans as a reason why the driver shortage will continue to worsen: more people are ordering goods online which have to be delivered – but there are a decreasing amount of delivery drivers.

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