A new report from the REC suggests British firms could come unstuck in key sectors like food supply if the government does not allow employers to continue to access temporary and seasonal workers from the European Union (EU) after Brexit.
Launching the report, REC chief executive Neil Carberry commented: “With employment at record highs, firms are already struggling to fill vacancies. If we cut off access to EU temps, British firms would be less able to compete with imported goods on our supermarket shelves, a real blow to our economy and a boost for overseas manufacturers.”
The REC recommends that, as part of the exit deal with the EU, eligibility to work in the UK for EU nationals should be linked to individuals having a job – not a permit linked to a permanent job with a single employer. This will allow EU workers to work for different employers on a range of temporary assignments while they are here.
EU nationals make up seven per cent of the population but account for 14 per cent of the UK’s workforce and in Short-term labour for long-term growth: EU agency workers post-Brexit the REC reports that four out of five (81 per cent) of employers who create temporary or seasonal jobs said they hire EU workers.
Much of this is driven by a shortage of labour in many areas of the UK. 42 per cent of employers said they had not been able to find enough workers to fill all their seasonal or temporary vacancies, a concern echoed by recruiters: approximately a third of recruitment agencies supplying agency workers to each of the warehousing (29 per cent), hospitality (38 per cent), or food and drink (39 per cent) sectors had not been able to meet their clients’ overall demand for staff.
Some sectors are particularly reliant on EU staff. In a survey of member agencies the REC found that:
· Six out of ten (60 per cent) recruiters for the warehousing sector said at least half the temporary staff they supply come from the EU with almost three in ten (28 per cent) saying Europeans make up three quarters or more of their agency workers.
· The majority (56 per cent) of agencies supplying staff into the food & drink supply chain said at least half of the temporary assignments they filled in the past year were staffed with EU workers. Four in ten (39 per cent) reported that three quarters or more of their agency staff were from the EU.
· 52 per cent of recruiters supplying agency workers in the hospitality sector said EU nationals filled at least half of their temporary assignments in the last 12 months. A third (33 per cent) said EU nationals accounted for three quarters or more of their agency workers.
“Our future immigration system should be based on the contribution people come to make, not an immovable numerical target which isn’t based on evidence of what is needed for prosperity,” Neil Carberry says. “Employers need the government to secure the transition period quickly including an agreement on mobility in the exit deal. Temporary and seasonal roles need to be part of this. The right to work must be attached to the individual coming to work, not dependent on sponsorship by an employer or the promise of a permanent contract.
“People who take on temporary and seasonal jobs are vital to our economy and help to keep work here that may otherwise be done elsewhere,” he concludes. “Ignoring the potential for new jobs and UK competitiveness this creates would be blinkered. The hospitality, warehousing and food and drink sectors rely heavily on EU nationals and if they can’t continue to fill these roles we risk damage to supply chains that will affect all our daily lives.”