Freedom of movement isn’t the only answer to skill shortages
This morning the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reported the findings of a survey that 8% of the construction workforce – about 175,000 people – could be lost to the UK economy as a result of Britain leaving the European Union. That could interfere seriously with the major infrastructure projects that Britain needs to kickstart the economy and go some way to tackling the economic impact of Brexit.
Clearly this demonstrates how the Government’s refusal to guarantee the right to remain for EU citizens in the UK could impact on the UK economy. There simply aren’t 200,000 skilled construction workers who could fill those vacancies.
Unite’s acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said:
“This survey demonstrates once again that the government’s failure to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens is playing fast and loose with the well-being of the UK economy. The ongoing uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK post-Brexit is already resulting in workers voting with their feet and leaving the UK.
“This will exacerbate the deepening construction skills crisis, resulting in projects being delayed or cancelled, which will severally damage the health of the industry.”
But that isn’t the whole story. Gail went on to say:
“It is essential that the government wakes up to the threat faced to the UK construction industry by reversing decades of neglect and massively increasing the number of high quality apprenticeships so the UK can increasingly become self-sufficient.
“This will not be achieved unless the government introduces strict public procurement policies forcing companies bidding for all public sector contracts to recruit and train high numbers of apprentices. The laissez-faire model of construction apprentice training has been an unmitigated failure.”
In addition, the construction sector needs to make itself more attractive to working people, not only providing training, but well-paid, secure careers characterised by respect and dignity at work.
Bluntly, too many employers in construction rely on short-term migrant labour, instead of providing better training opportunities and secure, well-paid careers. That has provoked opposition to free movement and the European Union. We need a new deal for construction workers and trainees, including adult learners and women and girls, with fairly treated migrant workers making their contribution to meeting the challenges of genuine skills and labour shortages.
That new deal must clear out the blacklisting and bogus self-employment that has characterised the indstry for many years. And it should involve a reversal of cuts to HSE inspections, as well as more government resources devoted to ensuring that decent wages and paid holidays are provided.
The TUC will continue to argue for better managed migration that balances the needs of the economy and the rights of working people, free from exploitation and undercutting.