The triggering of Article 50 marks the start of a process that we expect to have significant implications for our immigration policy and access to EU migrant workers, as well as other possible changes to our employment legislation and frameworks. It may take years to fully understand the implications of Brexit for the UK but it’s also important to recognise that this is just one of many forces shaping the future world of work. Now more than ever, we need government and businesses to put people and skills development at the heart of their thinking.
The future of the UK’s immigration system will be one of the most significant and challenging questions to solve in the UK’s exit negotiations. Research and official data have already shown a reduced flow of migrant workers from the EU into the UK since the referendum and there’s evidence that many EU workers are considering leaving the UK. It’s essential that the status and rights of EU migrants in the UK is confirmed early in the negotiations to give certainty to those individuals and help employers to retain vital skills as they plan their workforce development strategies for the future. While we expect there to be changes to the UK’s immigration policy there will undoubtedly still be a need for organisations to be able to access both skilled and unskilled labour from the EU, and further afield. It’s crucial that the Government designs a flexible immigration system that meets the demands for greater control, but also enables UK organisations to access the workers and skills they need if they can’t access those skills from within the UK. This has been particularly recognised in key sectors such as healthcare, hospitality, transportation, agriculture, and construction, as well as fields like higher education, where significant levels of EU migrant workers have been attracted and would take many years to replace. We urge the Government to engage with businesses and representative organisations to ensure the new system can continue to support the skill and labour needs of UK businesses and keep our economy moving.
A key area of concern for many professionals is whether there will be any significant changes to employment rights and law. Our employment law is a mix of EU and UK based legislation and it would be very complex and time-consuming to unpick for little, if any, real gains. In its current form, we believe UK employment law and the employment rights framework provides an appropriate balance in providing flexibility for employers and security for individuals. Importantly we need to address the issues of employment rights for the growing number of self-employed and contract workers, but these are not directly related to Brexit. It’s vital that employment rights don’t become a bargaining chip in the course of negotiations as this would be a major distraction when the Government should be focusing on more pressing issues such as migration and access to skills outside of the UK.”
If the UK is going to thrive on leaving the EU, then it’s essential that businesses, as well as government, have a greater understanding of what is going on inside our workforces; the skills needed today and tomorrow and the barriers that are blocking productivity. For many organisations, Brexit has been the sharp wake-up call they needed to look at and better understand their workforces, to focus more on the changing skills and capabilities that they need to remain competitive, and understand where and how they are going to access or develop those capabilities for the future.
For government and education, this is a pivotal moment to address the failings in the UK’s skills system on basic numeracy and literacy skills, and work readiness and support. Despite significant investment in education, the UK continues to suffer from a growing gap in the skills needed by business and poor performance in international league tables on even the most basic skills. For many years, easy access to workers from the EU and beyond has often acted to mask these problems, but a reduction in overseas talent will lay bare these failings. We need government and business to work more closely together to address both the demand and the supply of skills for the future and how improvements to skills policy and productivity can be made in order to strengthen our economy.
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