Construction Workers

What concerns are there for the construction industry following the recent Government MAC report?

In September this year, the Migration Advisory Committee released its report on the impact of EEA migration in the UK. This piece of research was designed to help the government make decisions about immigration policy in a post-Brexit Britain, in particular with respect to workers from the EEA. The report made a number of recommendations, in particular that low skilled workers from European countries be restricted and that there be no clear pathway for this type of worker when it comes to finding a way to enter, and work in, the UK.

What has the industry said?

Clearly, a lack of EEA workers will have a big impact on the construction sector, parts of which are already struggling to meet recruitment targets and suffering from serious skills shortages. This also comes at a time when there is increasing pressure on the sector as a result of the housing shortage in the UK. The report recommends that foreign workers earning less than £30,000 a year be banned from obtaining a visa to work in the UK.

According to Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry, “EU workers are vitally important to the UK construction sector. Nine per cent of our construction workers are from the EU and in London, this increases to one third. These workers have played a very significant role in mitigating the severe skills shortages we have experienced in recent years.” It’s not just the construction sector fearing the worst after the report was released – ancillary industries, such as logistics, could also suffer. Freight Transport Association Head of Skills Sally Gilson said, “Yes, highly skilled workers are valuable to the economy, but so too are those whose work keeps us able to operate at home and at work, 24 hours a day.”

Are there other options?

Many believe that the recommendations of the MAC report are based on a lack of understanding of what would work best for an industry like construction. Brian Berry said that the report ignores “the pleas of construction employers who have called on the government to introduce a visa system based on key occupations rather than arbitrary skill levels.” Simply restricting everyone below a certain skill level from working in the UK (applying the Tier 2 immigration system to EU workers) – rather than basing this on something more specific – does seem rather nonsensical.

The report has also created a lot of confusion for the industry. For example, it’s not currently clear whether those workers who have skills that are in the shortest supply in construction right now – such as carpentry and bricklaying – will be caught by the policy change if it is put into place. It has also been highlighted that the change could disproportionately affect small and medium sized construction businesses, many of which are already experiencing serious issues with respect to skills shortages.

The MAC report has been called “elitist” and it has been called misguided – it certainly seems to fail to take into account the reality for so many construction businesses today. The key question in the coming months will be whether the government puts its recommendations into practice.

At RG Group we understand the key issues that affect the industry. Contact us to discuss your project requirements.

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