Belfast Telegraph

NI employers less confident over staff levels due to border worries

By Margaret Canning

Uncertainty over the future of Northern Ireland's border with the Republic has made employers here more cautious about taking on staff, according to a survey today.

And recruitment giant Manpower Group, which carried out the survey, said their wariness would persist despite the deal on the border reached by the EU and UK last week.

Firms in Northern Ireland told Manpower they were less likely to be taking on new staff. Confidence levels had fallen and were now the same as the national average - at its weakest level for five years.

Amanda White of Manpower said: "Our clients are finding it hard to prepare for Brexit and we are already observing fewer EU workers coming to Northern Ireland, or remaining here, especially now their wages are worth less due to the fall in sterling.

"The weakened pound has boosted manufacturing exports, but if companies are not able to flex their workforces up quickly to meet demand, they may not be able to make the best of the situation."

Manpower's latest survey comes after business groups across Europe urged both sides in the Brexit talks to agree a trade deal as soon as possible - with the UK staying in the single market and customs union during a transition period.

Ms White said that UK-wide, it was hard for manufacturing firms to hold on to workers.

Many skilled staff such as welders and fabricators were taking up opportunities on oil rigs.

"The salaries offered offshore are difficult for local companies to compete with. They must strike a balance between offering higher salaries to secure talent and keeping their current workforce happy with pay rises."

And she said qualified freight drivers were also in high demand in Northern Ireland and across the UK as a whole.

The firm said growth in online shopping was increasing the need for drivers to carry out deliveries.

And Ms White said many drivers preferred short-term contracts: "Since work is plentiful and drivers are in such high demand, many opt for temporary contracts where there is scope to negotiate a higher rate, compared to permanent workers who may get a pay review once a year or less.

"The intense demand for drivers means that we're seeing more newly qualified HGV drivers being taken on whereas previously employers sought more experience."

In the UK as a whole, fears over Brexit had led to employers taking on more permanent drivers where possible.

James Hick, managing director of ManpowerGroup Solutions, said: "With so many EU workers employed in driving and logistics roles, employers are already mindful of the cliff-edge scenario of exiting EU workers that may accompany Brexit. We are therefore seeing companies in the transport sector "stockpiling" drivers by signing them up for permanent contracts ahead of May 2019."

Meanwhile, chambers of commerce from seven countries have said firms need to start preparing for any new arrangements, but most of the "big issues" of concern to businesses had "not yet even been touched on" by UK and European Union negotiators. They demanded clarity on the outlines of a future EU-UK trade agreement over the coming months.

Belfast Telegraph

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