Tony Burke: ONS figures show migrant workers are needed in our economy

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has issued a report showing EU migrants make up more than one in ten of manufacturing sector workers in the UK – averaging at 11 percent – confirming warnings from Unite, UK manufacturing companies and employers’ organisations that post-Brexit the UK could a major skills shortage.

The Government has not set out how it will deal with the issue once EU free movement of labour rules no longer apply – apart from vague references to attracting the ‘brightest and the best’.

In meetings on the impact of Brexit on manufacturing Unite has learned from companies that skilled workers from the EU are looking to head back to their home countries due to uncertainty and that they are looking to fill vacancies at home rather than face uncertainty.

Some say that advertising for skilled workers on a number of platforms are attracting low responses – as skilled EU workers who were attracted to work in UK manufacturing and science sectors are not prepared to take the risk of coming to the UK only to face future uncertainty.

Brextremist politicians and groups argue that the UK needs to begin training thousands of skilled workers immediately without recognising the very real problems the UK faces.

The UK’s apprenticeship system has suffered from low uptake in the past, despite some sterling work from companies in the engineering, automotive and aerospace sectors. Many companies still rely on attracting ready-made skilled workers from the EU.

The Government’s target of creating 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 has been compromised already by the offer of low quality ‘apprenticeships’ (Subway offering one year apprenticeships in making sandwiches) rather than good quality gold standard apprenticeships as demanded by Unite and employers organisations.

Engineering UK predicts we will need 182,000 new skilled engineers year on year between now and 2020 to keep up. This means we need double the current rate of graduates and apprentices.

The ONS report says that in 2016 an estimated 3.4 million workers, amounting to 11 percent of the entire UK labour market, were foreign nationals.

The analysis shows the significant impact international migrations to the UK has had on the on the wholesale and retail sectors, alongside hospitality, as well as the public and health sectors which employ approximately 1.5million non-UK nationals.

The report also shows that migrants from Central and Eastern Europe work more hours for less wages than UK workers, partly a reflection on their numbers in low skilled jobs.

In contrast workers from 14 EU countries including France and Germany earned more – £12.59 per hour – compared with the national average earnings of £11.30 per hour, whereas those from Central and Eastern European countries averaged with the lowest hourly pay of £8.33.

The report also revealed that 61 percent of workers from Central and Eastern Europe worked for more than forty hours per week.

One in eight (12 percent) in the UK’s financial services sector were foreign nationals, including 382,000 from the EU.

And it said non-UK workers were more likely to be overqualified for the jobs they were doing.

The highest employment rate was 83 percent among eight central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, as well as Romania and Bulgaria, while the rate for non-EU nationals was 62 percent.