The release of the Migration Advisory Committee report has seen industry reacting with varying degrees of alarm and horror, with members of the construction industry raising concerns immediately.
The report advises a ban on foreign workers earning less than £30,000 a year from obtaining work visas following Brexit, with lower-skilled workers not achieving work permits at all and higher skilled EU workers not receiving preferential treatment.
With the latest ONS statistics showing the lowest level of net migration from the EU since 2012, this has also raised concerns as to how construction will cope with a reduction of a skilled labour supply from the EU post-Brexit.
Industry reaction immediately addressed the need for both lower skilled workers, with employers in this sector reliant on blue collar workers, and EU professionals who would be subject to a ‘surcharge’, saying it could cripple business.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA), which represents the UK’s logistics industry, has reacted angrily to the findings. FTA Head of Skills Sally Gilson explains: “The MAC report totally fails to recognise, and actively diminishes, the role of lower-skilled migrants within the UK’s economy, which is hugely disappointing from a logistics point of view. The job roles covered by these workers are often based in areas of low unemployment where competition for workers is already high, so Britain’s supply chain could easily be at risk if they are forced to return to their home countries. Yes, highly skilled workers are valuable to the economy, but so too are those whose work keeps us able to operate at home and at work, 24 hours a day. Academic achievement is not the only measure for value which should be applied to the UK workforce – everyone has their role to play in keeping the country moving and solvent.
“The logistics sector, especially when you consider roles such as HGV drivers and warehouse staff, is reliant on access to non-UK workers, currently employing 43,000 HGV drivers, 113,000 warehouse workers and 22,000 van drivers from the EEA – and even more during peak times of year like Christmas. Without them, schools, shops, hospitals and retailers, as well as manufacturers and homeowners, will all find it harder to access the goods they need in order to conduct their daily lives.
“Due to the regulation of the sector, logistics businesses cannot immediately look to other non-EEA countries to help plug the skills shortages which losing these European workers will cause. And the problem is further compounded when you consider there are already more than 52,000 vacancies for HGV drivers nationwide. Losing the services of these vital EU workers after Brexit would be devastating to the nation’s ‘just in time’ economy – and next day deliveries would soon be a thing of the past.”
Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods.
While the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) Chief Executive, Brian Berry, condemned the report, saying: “[The] report makes very worrying reading for the tens of thousands of small construction firms across the UK who are already deeply concerned about the skills shortage. Its recommendations ignore the pleas of construction employers who have called on the Government to introduce a visa system based on key occupations rather than arbitrary skill levels. Instead, the proposal is to apply the Tier 2 immigration system to EU workers, which would be disastrous for small and micro construction firms. “Even if tweaked and improved slightly, the Tier 2 system would not make provision for ample numbers of low skilled workers to enter the UK and these are people the construction industry relies upon. For the Government to make good on its construction and house building targets, it will need sufficient numbers of labourers as well as civil engineers and quantity surveyors.”
Berry continued: “It’s not at all clear that EU workers with important skills already in short supply, like bricklaying and carpentry, will not fall foul of a crude and limited definition of ‘high skilled’ worker. In addition, the report explicitly recommends that there should be no migration route for lower skilled workers with the possible exception for seasonal agricultural workers. There is also a vague suggestion that if there was a route for lower skilled workers, it should be aimed at younger people and not be open to workers of all ages. This is far too restrictive and simply won’t meet the needs of the construction industry.”
Berry concluded: “EU workers are vitally important to the UK construction sector. Nine per cent of our construction workers are from the EU and in London, this increases to one third. These workers have played a very significant role in mitigating the severe skills shortages we have experienced in recent years. The construction industry knows it needs to do much more to recruit and train many more domestic workers. However, given the important role migrant workers have played, and the already high levels of employment in the UK workforce, it is crucial that the post-Brexit immigration system allows us to continue to hire workers of varying skill levels, regardless of where they are from.”
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