HR · 25 April 2017

Small business threatened by prospect of losing EU workers

EU workers
Almost three-quarters of European staff at small businesses were UK residents when recruited

Over half of small UK business owners employing EU workers are concerned that post-Brexit immigration requirements will damage company growth, according to new research.

The study, from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), found that one in five small firm owners in Britain employ workers from within the EU.

Almost six in ten of the employers at small companies feared they would not be able to access essential skills, while 54 per cent believed growth would suffer.

The findings also revealed potential implications for the wider economy following the loss of access to the European workforce. Some 13 per cent of small business owners claimed they would move their business abroad, while the same number said operations would have to be reduced.

Mid-skilled staff, such as care workers, construction workers and office managers comprised almost half of EU workers employed by small firms in Britain. Almost a third were considered “highly skilled”.

Commenting on the findings, FSB chairman Mike Cherry emphasised the “real concern” among small business owners of a loss of sufficient skills and labour needed to grow their company.

“EU workers are a vital part of our economy, helping to plug chronic skills gaps across a wide range of sectors, and filling jobs in an already tight labour market,” he said in a statement. “From packers, to mechanics, to graphic designers, small employers need to be able to hire the right person, for the right job at the right time.”

Smaller employers reported little enthusiasm for a “points-based” system of immigration. Some 95 per cent had no experience of the model.

In response to the findings, FSB has called on government to guarantee “as soon as possible” the rights of EU workers to remain part of Britain’s economy. The organisation suggested its members wanted a three-year transition period to come into line with new immigration demands.
“Securing the right to remain for EU workers in the UK must be a priority,” Cherry added.

“It’s also crucial small firms are given time after the UK leaves the EU to prepare for the new immigration arrangements. There can’t be a sudden cliff edge preventing small firms from accessing the workers they need. This means having sensible transitional arrangements first, followed by the phased implementation of a new immigration system.”

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Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.


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