Manufacturers warn of ‘chilling effect’ of post-Brexit restrictions on EU workers

June 23, 2017

Denying Swindon firms access to workers from the European Union after Brexit could have a “potentially chilling economic effect”, a major industry body warns today. 

The stark message from the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, comes a day after Prime Minister Theresa May told EU leaders that about 3m EU citizens living in the UK would be allowed to stay after the UK leaves.

The Prime Minister’s commitment is the clearest statement yet from the government over an issue seen as critical by business organisations to their future of UK industry. But anxieties remain over future migration as well as the dates that will apply to the latest proposal.

The EEF warns that nearly two-thirds of manufacturers said an insufficient number of UK nationals applying for jobs within the sector was their main reason for recruiting from across Europe.

Others felt that the skills needed for their businesses to thrive are not found from within the British labour market.

It called on the government to move swiftly to give companies early certainty that they will continue to be able to recruit low-skilled EU nationals until the UK labour market is able to support businesses’ demand with home-grown workers.

An EEF report Making migration work for manufacturers: Accessing skills in a post-Brexit world, published today, reveals that three quarters of manufacturers have struggled to fill engineering roles.

This figure is set to rise if there are post-Brexit restrictions to migration which apply a cap for companies employing EU staff, along the lines of the current rules currently in force for non-EU employees working in the UK.

Manufacturers interviewed as part of the report said they need unfettered access to “appropriate workers” with the skills industry needs, adding that European employees should be able to come to the UK to work for up to five years. The ability to apply for permanent residence should follow on after that time has elapsed. 

And for their businesses to continue to flourish, international employers stressed the need for their workforce to be mobile, so that UK sites can continue to have access to EU workers as part of intra-company transfer programmes. This necessary flexibility in the movement of skills, they feel, is vital for continued business success.

EEF regional director Martin Strutt, said: “Preventing industry from being able to recruit the best skilled workers from the EU could stifle growth and damage British industry and the UK economy as a whole.

“As a priority the government should clarify the reciprocal rights of EU nationals in the UK and British nationals currently working in other EU member states. At the same time, ministers must map out a new model for immigration to come into force when the UK leaves the EU, including a phased implementation over a sustained period.

“Skills shortages are endemic in manufacturing and engineering, and any points based-type system would choke off the skills needed by this sector. A highly-skilled STEM route should be introduced to enable non-EU STEM professionals to seek work in the UK without a job offer within a reasonable timeframe.”

The report further calls for the immigration skills charge to be abolished and that European nationals coming to study in the UK should continue to be able to do so, with the opportunity to seek permanent employment in the UK after graduating within an agreed time frame.

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