The Freight Transport Association (FTA) is urging the UK government to act on the findings of today’s Home Affairs Committee report on migration to ensure that UK business can continue to operate at full staffing levels after the UK leaves the European Union (EU).
The FTA said the logistics sector, which represents 11 per cent of the British economy’s GVA, relies heavily on EU workers, with 14 per cent of HGV drivers and 25 per cent of warehouse staff coming from other EU countries.
Deputy chief executive, James Hookham says the Committee is right to raise concerns over the lack of guidance given to business over the future rights of these trained logistics staff.
He said: “Up to now, the political emphasis on Brexit has focused on trade and borders, while sidelining future immigration policy for a later date.”
Hookham added: “EU workers represent more than 12% of the UK’s logistics workforce, yet this lack of clarity on their future status has left their employers in limbo, not knowing whether they will be able to continue employing them under their current contracts after Brexit. An employee’s right to work in the UK is a pre-condition of most employment contracts.
“The Migration Advisory Committee is due to publish its findings over the future of EU workers currently in the UK in the autumn, but this is too late for businesses which are already planning for 2019 and beyond. A clear and informed debate about the various policy options available needs to start now about future access to non-UK workers, so that employers can have clarity on the scale of their recruitment needs.”
The FTA said while permanent EU workers form a significant proportion of the workforce for logistics businesses across the sector, there is a particular need for the continued availability of seasonal workers to support fluctuations in trading requirements.
Hookham said: “Around a quarter of warehouse operators tell us that EU workers make up 75% or more of their agency staff, so if these people cannot be employed in the UK after Brexit, their absence would pose a real threat to the supply chain, particularly for the e-commerce sector and other businesses relying on daily deliveries.
“These businesses are currently living on a knife-edge of uncertainty about the future: when will employers be able to write to their employees who hold non-UK EU citizenship and confirm their employment status after Brexit?”
The FTA said the skills gap which the loss of these EU workers could leave in the UK’s supply chain is made even starker by the fact that there are already significant skills shortages across the sector, with more than 52,000 vacancies for HGV drivers nationwide.
And Hookham added, the time is running out if the logistics sector, and others which rely on European workers, is to ensure a seamless transition to a post-Brexit world.
He said: “The decision to commission the Migration Advisory Committee to look into the role of EU workers in the UK took over a year to make, which means the whole process of confirming the options for business has already been delayed. Now is the time for swift action from government, to provide clarity for the workforce and their employers, and ensure that Britain can keep trading efficiently in a post-Brexit world.”