The UK Construction Industry and the Skills Based Immigration System

The UK Construction Industry and the Skills Based Immigration System

26th December 2018

With the date for Brexit fast approaching, most of us are still none the wiser on what this will entail as negotiations seem to have failed and it looks as if a hard Brexit is on the cards.  The government’s new Immigration White Paper, “Future skills-based immigration system: executive summary” was updated recently and has been met with anger by construction industry leaders as they fear this will have a negative impact on the industry here in the UK.  The new policy was released by Home Secretary Sajid Javid and it represents a particular snub to the construction lobbying campaign which has sought to ensure that the UK construction industry is not negatively affected.

However, the new rules will significantly restrict the number of “low skilled” construction workers coming into the UK to work on construction projects.  These are the workers who earn less than £30,000 annually and on whom the construction industry depends so heavily.  The government’s obsession with salary thresholds for migrant workers entering the UK is causing stress for the business community.  The £30,000 figure was decided upon in consultation with the Migration Advisory Committee report and has been met by robust opposition from just about every sector here in the UK. 

Industry and business leaders advocate for the immigration policy to be based on what will strengthen the UK economy and increase production in Britain.  The White Paper, however, categorically states that no allowances will be made for “low skilled” workers.  The term “low skilled” can be taken to cover most tradespeople working in the construction sector, such as labourers and these workers are essential to the smooth running of any construction site. 

Although the government’s intention by taking a skills based approach is designed to attract the brightest and best migrants Europe has to offer, not many of the brightest and best are going to be content to work in jobs that they consider to be low paid.  It’s the lower paid members of the workforce on whom so many sectors depend for success.  Finding enough UK citizens to carry out work that is low paid, seasonal or that involves boring and repetitive tasks is going to present us with quite a challenge as we leave the European Union. 

It doesn’t’ help that society often judges workers not on what they do and how essential their job is to the economy, but on the amount they earn.  One way of addressing this problem would be to increase the salaries on these low paid jobs, but that will have the effect of increasing costs throughout the building process and, ultimately, increasing the project cost for the customer.  This approach will obviously not solve the problems we face.

Whether the government comes up with a solution to this problem before we leave the European Union remains to be seen.  Rest assured that here at Safety Fabrications, we will be taking close interest in this issue so that we can report on developments and keep our readers up to date as the date for leaving the EU draws closer.  Why not follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep fully up to date with all the issues that impact the construction industry here in the UK?