How businesses can protect EU workers after Brexit
PUBLISHED: 15:37 01 May 2019
An Ipswich lawyer is calling on the government to help businesses prepare for the post-Brexit skills shortage expected to hit the UK.
At the end of last year there were more than 3.5m foreign workers employed in the UK – with two-thirds coming from the EU.
Matthew Cole, employment partner at Ipswich's Prettys law firm, believes companies must take vital steps to hold on to their international employees.
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“The most important step that an employer can take is to encourage any EU workers to apply for settled status and be proactive in providing information required,” said Mr Cole.
“Settled status means that the rights of EU citizens living in the UK will stay the same after Brexit.
“Applicants will need to demonstrate that they have been settled in the UK for at least five years, and so helping them through this process by providing old employment-related documents, such as pay slips and letters of appointment, can be really helpful.”
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He added: “Training is essential and certainly making the apprenticeship path as easy as possible will help. Many employers are still not using their full apprenticeship levy allocation and the government could do more to facilitate this.”
Some industries rely on foreign workers more than others.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) 10% of workers in the construction industry come from outside the UK.
And Prettys' head of construction Rebecca Palmer said any restriction on employing these foreign workers would therefore be a major challenge for the sector.
“If, for whatever reason, we were to lose our valued international workers, I think it would really hurt the UK's construction industry,” she said.
Ms Palmer added the potential skills shortages in the construction industry have long been identified as a pressing challenge.
She added: “One of the biggest issues that the UK faces is its productivity gap. Our productivity continues to lag behind much of the rest of Europe and there is a general sense of reliance upon labour, rather than considering innovation around technology to solve problems.
“So, the answer is for the government to look at how it encourages businesses to invest in long-term solutions that will make the reduced labour pool as productive as the larger labour pool currently is.”