United Kingdom: Will Brexit bring a labor shortage?
After Brexit, who will pick our crops and wash our dishes? asked Helen Warrell in the Financial Times. Right now, workers from poorer European Union countries, like Romania and Bulgaria, make up a significant chunk of low-skilled laborers in the U.K. But when Britain finally leaves the bloc, probably in 2019, EU citizens will lose the automatic right to live and work here. They are likely to leave in droves—indeed, many have already gone. The number of EU workers in the U.K. dropped by 50,000 to 2.3 million after last summer’s Brexit referendum. Nearly half of farmers report labor shortages, because they can’t get British workers to pick crops in the cold. And a quarter of employers believe their “EU staff are considering leaving their jobs, and possibly the U.K., in 2017.” If Britain suffers a labor shortage, wages will have to go up to attract new workers, which in turn will mean higher prices for everything, starting with food.
This exodus is already causing problems for the hospitality sector, which “should be a Brexit winner,” said Ben Chapman in Independent.co.uk. A record 37 million tourists visited the U.K. last year, many of them bargain hunters drawn by a plunge in the value of the pound after the referendum. But hotels, restaurants, and bars are struggling to recruit enough EU nationals, who make up a large share of the industry’s 4.9 million workers. Those hiring problems are partly caused by the weakened pound, which translates to a 15 percent pay cut for the foreign-ers who wait tables and change hotel linens. And hospitality is just “the canary in the coal mine.” Retail, construction, and caregiving “all rely on talent from overseas.”
Don’t expect the government to help, said Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli in Politico. eu. Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to slash immigration, “and her government needs to show it’s bringing down the numbers.” The government’s advice to panicky employers is to “focus less on hiring foreign workers and more on training British ones.” But what about the areas where training takes years—like health care? asked Denis Campbell in The Guardian. A recent poll by the British Medical Association found that up to 40 percent of European-trained doctors “could quit the U.K. because they feel less welcome following the Brexit vote.” That would deprive the National Health Service of 12,000 doctors, devastating patient care.
Quit the scaremongering, said The Daily Mail in an editorial. The EU workers we really need will stay: The number seeking permanent residence here has more than doubled since the Brexit vote. Meanwhile, markets have hit new highs since the referendum, growth is strong, and “non-EU countries are queuing up to negotiate trade deals.” EU supporters love to pounce on a single statistic—like this week’s flavor, worker attrition— to predict doom for Britain, but it never comes. “So much for the apocalypse.”