Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Freight body angered by Brexit plan to check EU workers’ status

Will Waters 
Requirement for logistics businesses to establish employees’ right to work in UK ‘will be impossible without a system in place’, says FTA

Logistics businesses will be expected to check the right to work of their EU national employees both during the transition period and after Brexit, according to evidence presented yesterday to the UK parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee by Caroline Nokes MP, Minister of State for Immigration. 
But no system currently exists to carry out these checks, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) points out, meaning “as a result, industry will be held responsible for conducting the lengthy processes required to avoid prosecution and removal of illegal workers”. 
Sally Gilson, FTA’s head of skills, commented: “It is simply unacceptable that, with only five months to go until the UK is set to leave the EU, there is still no viable system in place which can provide employers with the information they need over workers’ status. For some time, FTA has been expressing concern over the legality of allowing EU workers to keep working in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit: a verbal promise guaranteeing rights is not legally binding. 
“Ms Nokes’ appearance in front of the Select Committee has created further concerns throughout the sector about whether business can continue to rely on these vital workers to keep the UK’s supply chain moving.”
Speaking to the committee yesterday, Ms Nokes said: “In the intervening period of any transition period, it will be incredibly difficult to differentiate between an EU citizen here for the first time, for example, and somebody who has been here for a significant period of time and hasn’t yet applied for their settled status but would be perfectly entitled to it if they were to.”
She acknowledged that this will place a huge burden on employers to prove the status of their workforce.
“Despite asking for clarification on this issue since Article 50 was triggered, it seems incredible that the government has let the clock run down to this point without giving business the answers it has been requesting,” Gilson said. “Asking employers to prove the right to work status of their workforce, despite assurances in the summer that this would not be needed, is simply unacceptable. 
“While logistics as a sector is notoriously good at adapting to change, this additional burden will make it very difficult indeed to keep the supply chain running smoothly at a time when there will be added pressures from new trading conditions, declarations and other processes to adopt. This puts a massive burden on employers who, despite assurances in the summer to the contrary, will be expected to check the right to work status.”
When questioned further, Nokes said that she did not know how employers will be able to check the status of those EU citizens yet to apply for ‘settled status’.
Gilson  added: “Following Home Office assurances in the summer, we have been reassuring our members that they will not be expected to check right to work for EU citizens. We now hear that employers will have to make these checks; however the Government doesn’t yet know how employers will be able to do so.
“The whole situation is shocking and almost farcical: we are now less than five months from Brexit and employers will affectively be asked to check right to work for employees without a mechanism to do so.
“The government has already said that EU citizens have until March 2021 to apply for settled status but, in fact, in a recent briefing to FTA, indications were made that the Home Office would prefer not to have everyone apply at once. We know a digital right to work check will be made available but that will only cover those who have successfully applied – there are over three million EU workers to process, who are vital to the continued smooth running of the UK’s supply chain.”
EU nationals currently make up 12% of the UK’s logistics workforce; and with significant numbers of vacancies already existing within key roles such as lorry drivers and warehouse staff, the loss of the EU workforce could be catastrophic for the flow of goods and services to the nation’s businesses and employers, FTA points out.
“It is imperative for the continued efficiency of the UK’s supply chain that the logistics industry can not only retain the workers we have, but can continue to access them during the transition period as the UK leaves the EU,” Gilson noted. “Any issues around the right to work in the UK have to be resolved now – otherwise employers could easily deem EU nationals too risky to employ. 
“The logistics sector is committed to Keeping Britain Trading – without the workers to do this, business could grind to a halt.”


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