Boris Johnson has been accused of “going backwards” by using foreign lorry drivers to prop up Britain’s supply chain.
The Prime Minister last week caved into industry demands for a haulier visa to prevent Christmas food shortages.
He had resisted the calls from retailers and trade associations for months, opting to tackle the backlog of HGV driver tests instead.
According to The Telegraph, the government will issue 5000 visas, which critics said backtracked on its drive to plug job shortages with British workers.
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed Johnson should have gone further and approved 100,000 visas.
Senior union figures in the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and Unite voiced criticism at Johnson’s u-turn.
RMT general secretary Mike Lynch said ministers were “going backwards” by “importing” labour from Europe.
People living in inner city communities in the UK should be recruited on decent pay and conditions, he told a meeting at the Labour Party conference.
“Instead, they want to bring people here from all over Europe, on poverty wages and poor terms and conditions,” he said.
Haulier wages have leapt up in recent months, with some retailers offering four-figure bonuses for new recruits.
Waitrose’s drivers are reportedly being paid up to £53,000 a year.
Unite road transport officer Adrian Jones said: “Kicking these issues into the long grass instead of taking decisive steps now will only create worse disruption down the line.
“Paying and treating overseas drivers differently from UK drivers is immoral and unjust and has created the problems we see today.
“It will take long-term commitments and serious action from employers and government if the haulage industry is to be reformed and made fairer and more resilient.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps admitted yesterday that he had not wanted to plug the vacancies with foreign workers.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We don’t want to be relying on overseas labour in the longer run, which is why this is limited until Christmas.
“We’ve got to sort out these longer-term problems with our HGV sector, which has been around for years.”
Starmer told the same show that the government should create enough visas to fill the haulage industry’s estimated 100,000 vacancies.
“We have to issue enough visas to cover the number of drivers that we need,” he said.