Estonia could have 2,000 vacancies for truck drivers by the end of 2022, which is why carriers want an exception for hiring Belarusians. Even now, Estonian logistics companies are looking for drivers from Uzbekistan and even India.
Europe is short some 400,000 truck drivers for almost 10 percent of vacant jobs. The problem will only grow worse once the economy picks up again and the transport sector with it. Jaak Kivisild, chairman of the supervisory board of the Association of Estonian International Road Carriers (ERAA), said that one reason is young people lacking interest in becoming truck drivers.
"The age structure is lopsided. A lot of drivers in Estonia and elsewhere are in their fifties and sixties. We are seeing very few young people."
A report by the World Road Transport Organization reveals that only 7 percent of European drivers are under 25 years of age. Fewer than 3 percent of drivers are women. The organization forecasts the draught of drivers to worsen by 40 percent this year.
Estonian companies operate some 8,000 trucks on international routes. Before Russia launched its war in Ukraine, there were 1,200 Ukrainian, 400 Belarusian and 400 Russian drivers. Those of the latter 800 who are still here must leave by the end of the year as their visas will not be renewed.
Many Ukrainians have returned to fight in Ukraine, meaning that Estonia could be short 2,000 drivers by the end of 2022. This has caused carriers to seek an exception for hiring Belarusian drivers as is possible in Latvia and Poland.
"It is something worth considering as a government regulation. Certain relief was put in place for Belarusian citizens in the IT sector. I presume the decision will be up to the incoming government. We will probably need to wait for the new government to take office, which is when we will know whether such an exception is deemed possible," said Ain Tatter, head of the roads and railroads department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.
Tatter said that one solution is hiring drivers from outside the European Union. Member states currently have 150,000 drivers not from Europe of whom 70 percent work in Polish and Lithuanian companies. Estonian carriers have also started looking for new drivers from further away, such as Uzbekistan and India.
"However, problems of work culture and general compatibility tend to crop up," Jaak Kivisild said.
The shortage of drivers is partly attributed to the European Union's policy of having fewer trucks on the road and promoting carriage of goods on the railroad. However, the European rail network would require considerable development first. It is also not possible to rely on the railroad for domestic transport in Estonia.
Editor: Marcus Turovski