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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Their loss; our gain

by New Worker correspondent

BRITAIN’S BOSSES are having a hard time as the lockdown lifts because of Brexit causing them much grief due to labour shortages which are showing signs that they will have to start paying decent wages.

Both the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Adecco, the recruitment firm, report that bosses are hiring at the fastest rate since 2013, largely as the result of shops and watering holes reopening. Jobs website Adzuna reports a million vacancies, an increase of 18 per cent since the end of March, but laments that as a result of Brexit, EU workers who left for home in the early days of the pandemic are not around to be exploited. Understandably, not all workers are keen to return to a sector that laid them off and which involves close contact with a large number of people.

Adzuna reports that some places have up to 20 jobs on offer per jobseeker. Maidstone in Kent is the hardest place to hire, followed by Manchester, Cambridge and Oxford. A co-founder of the website, Andrew Hunter, was quoted in the Guardian as saying: “There is hot competition for staff, with many hospitality and retail workers having left the industry to look for more secure work after the ups and downs of the last year” and that: “UK employers can no longer rely on overseas workers to plug employment gaps.”

Speaking on behalf of CIPD, the professional body for HR staff, Gerwyn Davies noted that: “New limits to the supply of unskilled migrant labour and the switch to new ways of working presents many employers with an incentive to review job quality.

“To offset the emerging threat of recruitment difficulties, employers should be reviewing not just their recruitment practices, but also the quality of work they offer – such as employment conditions, the possibility of promotion, training opportunities and the right balance of flexibility and security.

“There’s more to good work than raising wages” he concluded, perhaps to reassure tight-fisted bosses.

Whilst workers might be able to secure improved wages in the short-term when one person has 20 possible jobs to choose from (in theory) rather than the other way round, the only lasting “incentive to review job quality” will come from trade unions putting pressure on bosses.

It is the TUC that needs to get off its posterior and organise, so that workers can hold these gains when the jobs market is not so favourable. It has already wasted far too much time pathetically whimpering about non-existent evils of Brexit.

British unemployment is presently 4.8 per cent, due to the furlough scheme keeping it down. The Bank of England expects it to rise to 5.5 per cent when the scheme ends, it was four per cent or 1.3 million before the pandemic struck.

moaning

Amongst the employers moaning about the labour shortage are the farmers who complain that the days of charging eastern European fruit pickers a quarter of their pittance wages to live six to a leaky caravan could be over.

Piece-rate wages are often used to get round these tiresome minimum wage laws that farmers and gang-masters ensure don’t apply to them.

The National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents most British farmers, complains that it is only getting 30,000 temporary non-EU workers this year when they need 70–80,000. According Farmers Weekly, there was tragic loss of about 25–40 per cent of the daffodil crop due to labour shortages earlier this year.

EU workers

The Government says that growers can employ EU workers with settled or pre-settled status and domestic workers, particularly those who have lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Curiously, some alleged lefties seem to think exploitation of migrant workers has only just started because they are now coming to Britain under special visas.

One of these is ‘human rights’ lawyer Kirsty Thomson, who said: “It’s a system that is ripe for exploitation. Workers have very little in terms of rights and even those that they have are not always accessible.” What does she think happened before Britain left the European Union?

Another is Monica Lennon, the Scottish Labour spokesperson who responded to an exposure of conditions at an Aberdeenshire farm by saying: “Every worker deserves to be treated fairly and paid the real living wage…the ambition for Scotland to become a Fair Work Nation must not leave migrant workers behind.”

Dame Sara Thorton, the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, claimed that: “As freedom of movement between the UK and Europe ends, the government must ensure that visa schemes do not exacerbate vulnerabilities that may be further exploited by unscrupulous employers or organised criminal groups.” Of course, that never happened under EU rules!

Cobrey Farms, which grows asparagus in Herefordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, said it needs 1,350 workers across its farms for the asparagus picking season. Its owner moans that: “People coming here have got to go into self-isolation for a week due to COVID.

“We have to accommodate them, feed them. They are not earning money during this time. We don’t want to bring them here too soon.” So they employ daffodil pickers from Cornwall and workers from Nepal and Barbados. Farmers Weekly says wages may rise by at least 10 per cent following a drop in the number of EU-born workers in the UK.

not considered

There is not going to be another ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign, which last year helped to recruit UK-based workers in seasonal crop-picking roles. Offering higher wages does not seem to be considered.

The construction industry has depended for years on eastern European labour, after the collapse of socialism caused mass unemployment in the former socialist countries forcing many well-trained workers to emigrate.

Construction News reports the recruitment agency City Site as saying: “What we’ve seen is labour rates already creeping up, particularly labourers, because we’re finding it harder to find eastern European workers.” Formerly about 80 per cent of labourers on its books had been from eastern Europe.

Its owner lamented that the shortage would raise wages by about 10 per cent and: “I’ve already told my biggest customer that I cannot hold the rates we’re currently charging them much longer.”

specialised

In the more specialised sectors, Lignum Recruitment’s head of interiors said that getting “good-quality” workers would be an even bigger challenge. “It’s not necessarily just getting hold of the labour, but getting hold of workers that are up to the usual standards.” The CEO of the Finishes and Interiors Sector (FIS) trade body said his members were worried, bleating that: “Over 40 per cent of our members are currently reporting a shortage and 60 per cent are expecting one. How bad it will get, we don’t fully know right now, but we anticipate that it will impact rates and programmes.”

Whilst the bosses and Construction News think this is bad, the New Worker begs to differ. Their loss is our gain.

About a quarter of EU-born construction workers left Britain in 2019. The Construction Products Association says that the weaker pound and more job opportunities on the continent have persuaded many to go home.