By Gökhan Kurtaran
London briefing, April 18

- EU workers crucial for driving the U.K. economy

The U.K. is expected to leave the EU in less than two years with a deadline set for March 2019. Now the time is ticking for the U.K. government to start official negotiations with 27 members of EU.  However, it remains to be seen as to how ready the U.K is in stopping the free movement of EU migrants and whether it is sufficiently self-reliant to drive its own economy.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report for 2016 released last Friday, April 14, EU migrants make up more than one in 10 manufacturing sector workers in the U.K. Moreover, the report shows that EU workers from outside the U.K. tend to work longer hours than the U.K.’s workforce average.

However, the report contains some sticking points for the U.K.  One in seven workers (14 percent) in the wholesale and retail trade, and in the hospitality sector is an international migrant. In addition, 64 percent of these, more than half a million come from the EU.

The ONS report shows that workers from the EU made up 11 percent of the manufacturing sector.

One in eight or 12 percent in the U.K.'s financial and business services sector were foreign nationals, including 382,000 from the EU. About 61 percent of workers from Bulgaria and Romania worked more than 40 hours a week, compared with about 32 percent of British workers. Almost 40 percent of non-U.K. workers were in jobs that they were deemed to be over-qualified for compared to 15 percent of U.K. nationals.

According to ONS’ most recent statistics, the U.K. Prime Minister has set a target of reducing annual net migration from 273,000 to below 100,000. There is no doubt that this could have great implications for one of the most advanced economies of the world, especially when it comes to competing with Germany, which has plugged into the fast-growing Asian economies and is heavily reliant on skilled EU migrants.

According to another report by the British Hospitality Association (BHA)

from March 11, Britain’s hospitality sector might face a shortfall of 60,000 workers a year if immigration from the European Union is too tightly controlled.  Considering the fact that the hospitality sector represents nearly 3 million workers, and about a tenth of the U.K.'s economic wealth, there is an urgent need to assure business leaders that there will be still sufficient numbers of skilled workers in the near future.

Moreover, 75 percent of waiting staff in the U.K., 37 percent of housekeeping staff and a quarter of all chefs are from the EU, according to a KPMG study.

One of the largest British coffee and bakery chains, Pret a Manger has also announced recently that only one in fifty of its applicants were British while 65 percent of its workforce was an EU national.

According to the Independent newspaper, Home Secretary Amber Rudd is searching for alternative methods to fill the workforce gap, which might occur after leaving the EU. Rudd is preparing a two-year visa proposal, which would allow young people to work for two years but would prohibit them from claiming any benefits. It has been named the “barista-visa” in reference to employment in coffee houses through the U.K.

The statistics clearly show that the U.K. economy needs to have EU workers to drive the economy, which is already slowing down. The further expansion of these restrictive visas to other sectors and skilled migrants from the EU and candidate countries, like Turkey, would counteract the impending skills shortage.

18 Apr,2017