Brexit is causing staffing uncertainty

Fran Roberts
- Leadership - Nov 27, 2017

In 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU, an unprecedented step by a member state. The UK economy has undergone huge uncertainty, from when to trigger Article 50, to the hung parliament following snap elections, nearly a year after the referendum.

All of this uncertainty is having an impact on the UK economy and the businesses that operate within it – especially those with a large number of employees from other EU member states.

According to Euromonitor International, Unilever Group will be amongst the companies hardest hit by Brexit and will lose an estimated US$1.5bn in 2019.

On the whole, the negative impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU has been postponed, rather than avoided.

However, with over a year until the UK officially leaves the EU, many businesses are already being challenged by the potential staffing implications of Brexit.

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“We have a very high percentage of EU nationals who work for us, from all across the EU. A much higher percentage than British citizens and so what’s happening now with Brexit is incredibly important,” said Pete Lemon, Director of Distribution at Charles Tyrwhitt.

The same is true for many other firms. According to Euromonitor International, since 2010, around 40% of migration to the UK has been from EU countries.

“I stood in front of all of our team, I spoke four times the day after the Brexit vote to everybody to tell them not to worry,” Lemon continued.

“Everybody we employ, we employ because they’re the best people for the job. It doesn’t matter where they come from.

“The problem is, a year on there’s so much uncertainty to what this is going to mean and we are now starting the engagement process with our teams to try to help them understand what Brexit might mean, so that when things start to become clear, we’ve already started the dialogue.

“We’re not waiting for the government to give the final announcement because that could be months away.”

Theresa May has repeatedly promised that the 3.2mn EU citizens in the UK have no reason to fear deportation, while claiming an agreement with Brussels is within “touching distance”.

They would be able to apply for “settled status”, with registration due to begin by the second half of next year.

Much uncertainty remains, given the track record of the Home Office when it comes deportations and appeals.

“Post-Christmas, there could be a lot of people who decide ‘I don’t know what’s happening here over the next 12 months in the UK, maybe I will go elsewhere in Europe to seek employment’ and with all of the other people in the vicinity where we’re based, there are a lot of companies who are going to be seeking people from the same pool.”

Indeed, with an ageing population in the UK, the strength of the labour market, depending on policy decisions over migration, could pose a longer-term challenge across all sectors.

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