34,000 cases identified as Brexit labour risk dawns on employers
WORK BY NUMBERS: How Brexit could impact on labour movement in the Humber.
By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 20 Jun 2017
EFFORTS to ensure the availability of more than 34,000 European migrants currently working across the Humber are underway in earnest.
With a huge focus on food and fresh produce, as well as critical highly-skilled employees, bosses are turning their attention to firming up their key assets should a hard Brexit materialise and free movement be stifled, or worse, removed.
Expanding regional law firm Pepperells has set up a focus group to deal with the issue, with associate solicitor Frances Ledbury keen to work with businesses who feel exposed to changes that could follow the under negotiation retreat from Brussels.
And it comes after research into the seafood sector revealed upwards of 30 per cent are of Eastern European origin, while Gary Drane, head of McDonald’s burger producer OSI, headquartered in Scunthorpe, told how 40 per cent of his staff were not UK nationals.
The law firm is looking to roll out support to businesses with the Home Office documentation to secure permanent residency for those that wish to apply, with interested migrants facing 85 pages of form-filling to kick-start the process.
With interest soaring she has heard first hand of concerns, as well as sickening incidents of racism stemming from the Brexit vote.
Addressing a special business forum, Ms Ledbury, who first worked as an immigration adviser at University of Hull while qualifying as a solicitor, said: “We have found that there are a significant amount of people, and a significant amount of businesses affected if people are forced to leave.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, and there are two positions, what we don’t know and what we can guess about. There may be a five-year timetable for European nationals to stay and keep on working and building up reasons to stay. That journey could be two years.
“There is a lot of mis-information and slight panic. We still have legislation to protect European nationals who have been here some time. It is a question of either firming it up to have permanent residency that could lead to citizenship, or they can have permanent residency and keep their European nationality. We have been doing these applications for a long time. A lot of people don’t know it can be done, especially businesses. Employers wouldn’t have previously had to engage with this decision as they have had a workforce that just keeps turning up.
“Now people are ringing us, asking what can they do about it, telling us how they need to secure a workforce. We have been dealing with agencies about securing workforces too.
“A lot have felt the clock has started to tick. We don’t know when the clock is going to stop, we are waiting for Government to decide that.”
Pepperells, which was founded in Scunthorpe and opened recently in Grimsby, has a strong North Bank presence too, having acquired two Hull firms in the past decade.
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Ms Ledbury said: “People are saying ‘I don’t want to be a political pawn, I don’t want to be a statistic, I want to be settled’. That’s where it has become critical.
“A lot of Europeans are worried and we have seen a little bit of racism towards children. A 10-year-old boy on the morning of the Brexit vote didn’t want to go to school because ‘friends’ had been saying he will be deported the next day. The UK is all he has known.
“When kids start getting affected, parents start getting affected. Everyone is concerned about the future, about five to 10 years time. There is misinformation between the UK and Europe. Some European nationals have never experienced racism in this country and see it as home, but we are definitely seeing a shift between that and what people are now reporting to us.
“One Greek doctor said it doesn’t matter how long it takes he wants to make himself safe.”
In Grimsby, a careful line of lobbying is being trodden between potential benefits of increased fishing territories and retaining the processing might. The area has seen an increase in job creation, bucking the trend in the UK industry.
“It is important going forward that we get the right conditions for Brexit for us,” Simon Dwyer, secretariat of Grimsby Fish Merchants’ Association has said.
He has been appointed as the local representative on Defra’s seafood processing Brexit committee, which has toured the town. He is pushing hard on three fronts – trade, labour and regulation.
Mr Dwyer said skills and access to labour are high on the agenda, so too the time it takes to get product to the processor.
“If we lose overall competitiveness there is a danger that processing of food and seafood will go elsewhere,” Mr Dwyer said, mindful it could become a distribution centre for international produce rather than a processing cluster.
“Owners of businesses and investors in businesses will have a keen eye on how Brexit is being handled. “We are putting forward a strong message to them on these three key aspects that will keep us competitive going forward.”