The subject of an overseas workforce has dominated headlines and political statements for the past few years, leading up to the Brexit vote in June 2016. Now, as the parliament has voted in favour of the Queen’s Speech and the Government’s Hard Brexit plans, the negotiations are under way and the implications for EU27 workers’ UK based prospects after March 2019 should become clearer.
However, while politicians and citizens continue to debate the pros and cons of Hard versus Soft Brexit, the reality on the ground is that the Brexit vote has already had an effect on the availability of staff, especially in areas traditionally reliant on overseas workers.
At the recent Times CEO Summit, Jurgen Maier, head of Siemens in the UK, speaking about the impact of skilled labour shortages on productivity, argued that Brexit and the immigration debate were making tighter migration controls redundant: “We don’t need caps. Quite frankly, we’ve made ourselves unattractive.”¹
Certainly, the first Innovantage Brexit Barometer appears to indicate a changing attitude towards working in the UK. Sectors traditionally highly dependent upon EU nationals have seen demand – as evidenced by the volume of job ads – increase by more than 100% in two years. Health and education are two sectors already revealing escalating demand for employees, including teachers, nurses and GPs, raising serious implications for public sector services.
The Innovantage Brexit Barometer reveals that since the Brexit vote, certain cohorts of EU workers have declined. EU14 worker numbers fell in Q3 and Q4 2016 before rebounding in Q1 2017. EU8 numbers started falling in Q4 2016 continuing into Q1 2017 and EU2 numbers continue to rise.
Clearly individuals are feeling unsettled – both the 7.27% of the UK workforce comprising EU27 nationals in Q1 2017, and those who would be considering UK based work opportunities. Will the Government’s Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU² document be enough to allay these fears and reverse the upward trend in job availability in these key sectors?
The document has been broadly welcomed by UK business, according to Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, “Protecting the rights of EU citizens here and UK citizens abroad is the right priority at the outset of the negotiations, and firms will look forward to an early resolution of this issue. Both sides need to provide reassurance for millions of employees, giving certainty for businesses and starting to build real momentum to the negotiations. Companies will also expect a low-cost, speedy and simple solution to be put in place for EU citizens to establish their right to settlement in the UK.”³
The response of EU workers to this attempt to provide reassurance and the overall sentiment towards working in the UK will be one of the key metrics tracked by the Innovantage Brexit Barometer over the next few months.