Northern Ireland news

Business groups from the north write to Prime Minister over post-Brexit labour fears

A group of 21 business organisations in the north have written to British Prime Minister Theresa May highlighting "serious and immediate concerns" about the current availability of labour.
Gareth McKeown

A GROUP of 21 business organisations in the north have written to British Prime Minister Theresa May highlighting "serious and immediate concerns" around the current availability of labour.

The organisations, which include leading industry bodies; the CBI, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses (Northern Ireland) and the Construction Employers Federation have jointly penned a letter to the Prime Minister appealing for support and flexibility to help solve a "worsening problem".

The letter sent on Wednesday, also signed by representatives of the retail, hospitality, transport and farming industries states that many sectors in Northern Ireland are now facing "severe" labour shortages, which are now impacting on daily operations.

"The number of EEA workers has fallen by 26 per cent since the Brexit referendum adding further pressure to an already tight labour market. A combination of exchange rate movements and the uncertainty facing migrants to the UK, has meant that fewer EEA workers are coming to Northern Ireland and more are leaving," the letter says.

The urgency of the issue has been brought forward by the recent UK Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report, which calls for a new post-Brexit system favouring highly skilled workers over lower skilled ones. The MAC report also states that there should be no preference for EU citizens and a minimum threshold salary of £30,000 should be set for eligible applicants coming into the UK.

The local business consortium says there is "no justification" for the salary threshold proposed and that it would damage the Northern Ireland economy and force businesses to move operations to the Republic. They have also warned that a substantial cut to both EU and international workers could see Northern Ireland’s GDP decrease by 9.1 per cent by 2041

The business groups have asked for "regional flexibility" and specific regulations for Northern Ireland, separate from the rest of the UK.

"Businesses in key industries across Northern Ireland’s economy – from food processing and broader manufacturing, through to haulage and hospitality – are facing severe labour shortages today. This is before changes to immigration policy as a result of Brexit. Government should therefore bring forward immediate changes to immigration rules to allow these sectors to access the full range of labour and skills they need.

"For our part we stand willing and able to play a constructive role in the creation of an immigration policy which has the flexibility to address the needs of Northern Ireland’s economy," they said.

Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said: “The business community has asked for a solution to this problem. Special Status within the EU is a best of both worlds solution to the Brexit calamity. It would allow the north to continue to enjoy all of the advantages of EU membership including full access to EU workers. "

The full list of signatories:

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) (Northern Ireland)

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Federation of Small Businesses (Northern Ireland)

Construction Employers Federation

Manufacturing Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association & NI Bakery Council

Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland

Retail NI

Freight Transport Association

Hospitality Ulster

Newry Chamber of Commerce

NI Pork & Bacon Forum

Centre for Competitiveness

NI Meat Exporters Association

NI Hotels Federation

NI Grain Trade Association

NI Tourism Alliance

Federation of Master Builders

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce

Ulster Farmers’ Union

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