Government told its housing and infrastructure plans won’t happen if EU labour tap turned off in 2019

Industry trade bodies are warning construction runs the risk of facing a ‘cliff edge’ if access to EU workers is cut off following Brexit.

Publishing its Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto, the seven want a two-year transition period during which EU building workers should have the guarantee of settled status in the UK.

And the manifesto says a post-Brexit migration system should based on key occupations that are in short supply – rather than admitting people based on their skills or salary level.

The industry wants to recruit and train additional UK workers, but this will take time, said Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders.

“We know we need to step up as an industry and train more home-grown talent but we also have to be realistic about the future.

“There will continue to be some ongoing need for migrant workers and our post-Brexit migration rules will need to be fit for purpose,” he said.

And  Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders, said:

“With the country facing a shortage of skilled workers and the most acute housing crisis in living memory, the government needs to provide certainty to existing EU workers in the UK and enable construction SMEs to attract more home-grown talent into the industry.”

The manifesto quotes Labour Force Survey statistics which show that 12.6% of workers in the construction industry were not born in the UK and 5.7% were born in Eastern European countries which joined the EU after 2004. The group of trade bodies reported that London and the South East the percentage of EU nationals in the industry’s workforce is closer to 50%.

The manifesto added: “The construction industry should be viewed by the government as a strategic industry as without it ministers will be unable to meet their ambitious plans for the delivery of new homes and infrastructure projects.”

The Home Office has previously said that it will set the future immigration system in the near future.

Immigration minister Brandon Lewis met construction industry leaders in September to hear their concerns.


Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto recommendations to the government and industry

1) The Government should embark upon a communications campaign that makes clear to EU workers currently residing in the UK that they will have no serious impediments to gaining settled status.

2) Industry bodies and construction employers should work with the Government to put this message across more clearly to their members and their existing EU-national employees.

3) The Government should at the earliest possible opportunity state that the cut-off date, after which those arriving can no longer have expectation of guaranteed settled status, will be the later date of the UK’s actual withdrawal from the EU, not the date on which Article 50 was triggered.

4) Industry bodies should continue to work with CITB to conduct a construction industry-wide census and other research that provides a clear evidence base regarding skills requirements and future training needs, now and in the longer term.

5) The Government should agree a transition period of at least two years as soon as possible.

6) The Government should introduce a transitional regime that involves a clear path to settled status for those arriving during this period to ensure that EU workers continue to be attracted to the UK to live and work. Industries with a current reliance on immigrant workers should not face a ‘cliff edge’ in terms of incoming migrant workers.

7) The construction sector should agree what it can realistically achieve in terms of increased training and recruitment of homegrown workers over the next five years based on the industry-wide census.

8) Any future migration visa system should be based on key occupations that are in short supply rather than on arbitrary thresholds based on skill levels or income.

9) The Government should ensure that for those taking up these visas the terms of their stay in the UK are attractive enough and of sufficient length to ensure that such quotas can actually be met – this will likely mean a longer visa period than two years and include the possibility of settled status.

10) The Government should take into account the centrality of self-employment models within the construction industry and the importance of selfemployment in allowing migrant workers to access the construction labour market (half of all EU workers are self-employed).

11) The Government should introduce a post-Brexit immigration system that takes into account that the vast majority of the construction workforce are employed by small and micro firms and that asking these firms to sponsor foreign workers, or engage with the current Tier 2 system for non-EU workers, is not realistic and will simply not work for this industry. It probably is not realistic for larger firms either given the extent of self-employment in the industry.

12) In order to create a more flexible regime that can work for industries like construction with a prevalence of small employees and selfemployment, Government should ensure that registered employment agencies, or migrant workers themselves, are able to apply for occupation-based visas and the Government should allow and encourage the market to develop new intermediary mechanisms.