Study estimates 500,000 EU workers are in low-skilled UK jobs
An estimated 500,000 EU citizens are working in low-skilled jobs in the UK such as picking fruit, cleaning offices, working in warehouses and food factories, a report by leading academics has found.
The report by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said that employers could struggle to find workers after Brexit and the risk of labour exploitation might be heightened under the two main options available to companies to find staff willing to do the work once freedom of movement ends.
In the most extensive analysis of the jobs EU nationals are filling, Migration Observatory found 132,000 in elementary cleaning jobs, 120,000 in basic hospitality jobs such as coffee shops, 96,000 in warehouses, 91,000 in factory plants and 26,000 on building sites.
Another 89,000 were truck, van and taxi drivers; 82,000 worked in care services; 74,000 working in food processing; 68,000 as shop assistants and 54,000 in other administrative jobs.
The vast majority of the estimated 3.6 million to 3.8 million EU citizens in the country were in skilled jobs with 537,000 in “high-skilled jobs” with degree or equivalent qualifications.
Another 616,000 were in upper- to middle-skilled jobs with school plus substantial training with 781,000 in lower-middle skilled jobs defined as those involving school qualifications and “some training”.
Low skilled jobs defined as “requiring only compulsory schooling were taken up by 503,000 EU citizens compared to 2.4 million British citizens.
The government has said it wants to extend an existing youth mobility scheme for Australians, Canadians and other specified non-EU countries including Japan and Monaco to allow them work in these low-skilled jobs.
But Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory, said this would not be sufficient.
“There’s no guarantee that youth mobility can provide staff for unpalatable roles in out-of-the-way places.
“That’s because the scheme gives workers lots of options, and people with options often prefer to work in shops and bars rather than muddy fields or food processing plants.”
With virtual full employment in the UK, employers are concerned they will be left high and dry after Brexit if the government does not come up with a scheme for low-skilled workers.
One potential way to ensure a continued supply of labour after free movement from European countries ends on the UK’s departure from the EU would be to allow businesses to sponsor visas for low-skilled workers. But such schemes had “significant drawbacks”, the Migration Observatory report said.
Sumption also said that employer-sponsored schemes would limit workers to one job and would not prevent exploitation.
Her view was echoed by the anti-trafficking charity Focus on Labour Exploitation.
“The UK already has one of the weakest labour law enforcement structures in Europe, which means abusive employers are often able to operate with impunity. Increased restrictions on immigration and removal of the right to work for EU nationals will place yet more workers at risk of exploitation,” said the director, Caroline Robinson.
A Home Office spokesman said: “After we leave the EU, we will have in place an immigration system which works in the best interests of the whole of the UK.
“This system will be based on evidence. The government has commissioned advice from the migration advisory committee and we continue to engage with a range of stakeholders.”