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" 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
Freight Transport Association
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