Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Plea to Prime Minister May over Northern Ireland labour shortage fears

Brexit curbs on migrant workers 'will hit economy'

A public sign against Brexit situated by the road
A public sign against Brexit situated by the road
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

The leaders of more than 20 local business organisations have written to the Prime Minister to say that the economy here will suffer without a flexible immigration policy.

And the senior figures representing employers from farmers to builders and retailers said they already had "serious and immediate" concerns about availability of labour.

They said that there was a risk of companies moving operations to the Republic, where there would be more workers from overseas available.

The number of workers coming to Northern Ireland from the European Economic Area has already fallen by 26% since the EU referendum and before changes to immigration policy are introduced.

As a result "many industry sectors are now facing severe labour shortages which are critically impacting upon businesses' ability to perform daily operations".

The business leaders also said they feared that problems caused by a lack of migrant labour would be even greater after Brexit, adding that a report last month by the Migration Advisory Committee, that called for an end to a cap on high-skilled migrants while restricting low-skilled migrants, had failed to address the circumstances of Northern Ireland. In particular, a lower threshold of £30,000 for migrants filling medium and high-skilled roles failed to address the prevalence of lower salaries here.

"We appreciate that solutions need to be framed within a UK context, but also believe there are policy options which better meet the needs of Northern Ireland's economy," they said.

The letter said that migrant labour here was filling gaps in low-level and high-level roles, and was particularly important in sectors including hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing and digital industries.

It added that lower-paid jobs had become the basis for entire supply chains, which brought with them higher-paid roles.

The organisations call for "regional flexibility to resolve the significant labour challenges faced by key sectors of Northern Ireland's economy".

The letter is signed by leading business people including Fane Valley boss Trevor Lockhart, in his role as chairman of the Confederation of British Industry NI; recruitment boss Tina McKenzie (above), who heads up the Federation of Small Businesses here, and Ann McGregor, the chief executive of the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Mr Lockhart added that this place needed the UK and EU to reach a Brexit agreement and that a deal was "crucial to Northern Ireland's economic success and viability".

"One of the undertakings identified in the December 2017 joint report by the UK and EU Brexit negotiators was to ensure that any deal reached would not disadvantage Northern Ireland's economic interest. That was a commitment," he said.

"However, there is now grave concern within the business community that in a 'no-deal' situation, the UK Government would not be bound by these special undertakings, and Northern Ireland would suffer as a result.

"We are engaging with our local politicians, urging them to recognise the significance of this threat to our economy and wider society, and calling on them to exert their influence on the government at this critical time."

Belfast Telegraph