Construction industry warns against Brexit ‘cliff edge’ for EU workers

The construction sector has “come together with one voice” to warn the Government of the dangers of the industry facing a ‘cliff edge’ regarding access to EU workers.

Seven of the construction industry’s major trade bodies have set out what they believe to be the sector’s responsibilities and requirements in a post-Brexit labour market.

The seven construction trade bodies that support the manifesto are: the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), Association for Consultancy & Engineering, Build UK, Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Construction Products Association (CPA), Home Builders Federation, and National Federation of Builders (NFB).

The ‘Construction Industry Brexit Manifesto’ commits the sector to doing much more to recruit and train additional UK workers to reduce its future reliance on migrant labour. However, it makes clear that this will not be able to happen overnight and that, for some time, there will likely remain an ongoing need for significant levels of skilled EU workers.

The document sets down the industry’s key messages to the Government on what it will need from a post-Brexit immigration system in order to be able to deliver the Government’s strategic objectives for new housing and infrastructure:

  • The Government should agree a transition period of at least two years as soon as possible, during which time EU workers arriving in the UK should continue to have a path to settled status.
  • The post-transitional migration system should be based on key occupations that are in short supply, rather than on arbitrary thresholds based on skill levels or income.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “The construction industry has been criticised in the past for being too disparate but it has come together here with one voice and a set of clear messages. 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.”

Suzannah Nichol MBE, chief executive of Build UK, said: “Construction, like other major industry sectors, has substantial concerns over the impact of Brexit on its ability to recruit, train and retain talent. It is essential that the industry works together to present the need for an effective partnership between Government and industry, enabling us to deliver the UK’s infrastructure, homes and communities.”

Prof. Noble Francis, economics director at the CPA, said: “Access to the right skills will be absolutely critical for the whole construction supply chain in the next few years if it is to help Government achieve its aims of building more affordable housing and improving the UK’s infrastructure, which will be vital for boosting UK productivity.”

John Slaughter, director of external affairs at the Home Builders Federation, said: “With the Budget having confirmed a target to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, home builders will need to continue to bring more skilled people into the industry. Companies are building on their existing investment through the successful work of the CITB-supported Home Building Skills Partnership and are committed to doing even more, but to deliver the national, social and economic necessity of an improved housing supply, we will also continue to need access to foreign workers under a manageable migration system.”

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, 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.”