Large labour shortages are predicted after the government unveiled its latest post-Brexit immigration plans which will bar both EU and non-EU migrant workers from securing visas for jobs paying less than £26,500.
Under the new so-called points-based system which is set to go into effect at the end of the year once it becomes law, EU migrants must be able to speak English, and must have a job secured that pays more than the minimum threshold and is deemed to be at an appropriate skill level. There will be no route into the UK for self-employed migrant workers.
Migrants can gain extra ‘points’ if, for example, they have a PhD or they secure a job on the official shortage occupation list.
It is estimated that 70 per cent of existing EU migrant workers in the UK would not meet the new requirements. Even Home secretary Priti Patel was herself forced to admit that she and her family would not have been allowed in the UK under the new system.
Many businesses, industry experts and other organisations heavily criticised the government’s proposals, highlighting the detrimental effect they will have on a range of sectors from health to care, agriculture, construction and others where there is already a shortage of workers.
Age UK estimates for example that in England alone, there are 110,000 job vacancies for carers. Despite such widespread vacancies, care work is not classed as a shortage occupation.
Pre-empting such criticisms, the government has taken a hard-line approach, noting in a policy statement on Wednesday (February 19): “We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust.”
The National Farmers Union (NFU) noted that hiring migrant workers as pickers and packers will be vital if the agricultural sector is to “continue to deliver high quality, affordable food for the public”, while the independent Migrant Advisory Committee said the plans could harm economic growth. The Committee also noted that the new system would not improve job prospects for British workers.
Labour’s Diane Abbott noted that given the massive impact the new immigration system would have on care and health, “It will need so many exemptions” that “it will be meaningless”.
The new system is expected to become law after the government puts forward an immigration bill next month.
Unite roundly criticised the fact that the new system has failed to beef up labour enforcement standards. This dire lack of enforcement, the union has long argued, is the key driver of the undercutting of wages and terms and conditions, and not migrant labour itself.
“Unite represents workers right across the economy,” Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said. “We have seen first-hand what the abuse of migrant workers can do to a workforce and a community which is why for years we have been calling on governments to do more to uphold and enforce labour standards.
“Had they done so we would not have seen the abuses of migrant labour so prevalent in recent years,” she added.
“Unfortunately, the government is still ignoring the pressing need to invest in labour market enforcement to ensure that workplaces and workers are safe, that the rate for the job is being paid, and that there are no unlawful deductions being made from pay packets,” Holland went on to say.
“However, at current rates of investment, an employer can expect a visit once every 500 years. That is a signal to the rogues that they can get away with ripping off workers.
“Workers be they in hospitality or agriculture will also be distressed to hear a government minister actively encourage employers to replace them with robots with no sense of the investment and time managing this change will take, and patients and their families will be concerned about what that means for social care and NHS patients.
“Migrant workers have contributed and do contribute greatly to our economy and country,” she noted. “Today’s proposals must not create hostility to these workers. We urge Unite members concerned about their status to call our helpline on 0333 323 1291.”
Stay tuned on UniteLive for a special series on migrant workers, and how the government’s new points-based system may impact specific sectors.