Brexodus of EU workers hits British employers
Pénurie de main d’oeuvre outre-Manche.
Au Royaume-Uni, certaines industries ont énormément de difficultés pour recruter du personnel depuis le référendum sur le Brexit. Cette pénurie touche particulièrement le secteur agricole, où 90% des emplois saisonniers sont occupés par des étrangers. Reportage à Fordoun, dans le nord de l’Ecosse.
The first inkling that Ross Mitchell knew something had gone awry was when a busload of Bulgarians he had hired to pick blueberries last month failed to appear. The way he saw it, they had been “hijacked.”
2.The real explanation was rather more prosaic but no more palatable: During a onenight stopover in Birmingham, a city on the way to Mitchell’s farm in northern Scotland, the 30 Bulgarians were lured by a factory offering more attractive wages. They never made it to their original destination.
3.The diversion of his workforce meant that Mitchell, a fruit supplier for a major super-
market chain in Britain, lost 50 tons of fruit worth half a million pounds in a matter of weeks. Mitchell is not alone in his distress. Similar anecdotes have been reported by a wide range of employers, notably the National Health Service and the hospitality sector. It is a phenomenon tied to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
4.Since then, thousands of Europeans have already left Britain or have decided not to return, causing a significant drop in migration to the country. Net migration in the year ending in June fell by 106,000, about a third, the government said, “the largest fall in any 12-month period since records began in 1964.”
FROM HOSPITALS TO FARMS
5.Hospitals are struggling to hire doctors and nurses. British universities are failing to attract foreign academics and students. Bankers are looking for jobs in Germany and France. The construction sector warned that British infrastructure faced “severe setbacks” if Britain did not train enough workers to stem a shortfall in laborers from EU countries. About half of all construction workers in London and the South East are foreignborn.
6.The “Brexodus,” as it is called, is being felt particularly acutely in the agriculture industry, which relies heavily on manual laborers, especially from poor European countries like Romania and Bulgaria. While Europe is experiencing a boom in “disposable” workers who are sent to all corners of the Continent, many appear to be shunning Britain.
Farmers are doing everything to persuade workers from the rest of Europe to come work for them.
7.In Mitchell’s case, the signs started appearing in the autumn after the June 2016 referendum on Brexit. “There were no-shows, people started changing their minds,” he said. “Guys who’ve worked five, six years with us started saying, ‘We’re not returning.’”
8. Across Britain, fruit farmers like Mitchell are already scrambling to recruit and retain workers ahead of next spring, when the competition for an ever-shrinking pool of labor will be at its fiercest.
BETTER WAGES AND A TENNIS COURT
9.British agriculture experienced a labor shortfall of between 13 percent and 29 percent on a monthly basis from May to September, according to the National Farmers Union. John Hardman, director at Hops Labour Solutions, a supplier of temporary workers, said that labor fell by as much as 40 percent during the peak season between April and September compared with the same period last year. Industry officials and experts expect the shortage to be worse in 2018.
10.Farmers are doing everything to persuade workers from the rest of Europe to come work for them: better wages and conditions — in some cases, as high as 15 pounds (17 €) an hour — English lessons, even access to tennis courts and movie theaters. Still, recruiting has been difficult.
11.In Britain, the Brexit vote focused on immigration, and supporters of the exit option complained that workers, especially from EU member states like Romania and Bulgaria, were stealing jobs from born-and-bred Britons. The debates around the 2016 referendum were dominated by divisive issues of race, religion and tolerance.
12.Brexit supporters, for example, said that continued membership exposed Britain to a new wave of Muslim immigration and made it more vulnerable to Islamist radicals. The Brexit campaign was supported by some right-wing and nationalist groups, and the vote gave rise to concerns that minorities and immigrants would be more vulnerable to hate crimes, which reached record levels this year, according to the Home Office.
‘THE WILD WEST’
13.The “Brexodus” has been compounded by a fall in the value of the pound against the euro. For migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, the weaker currency has made the journey to Britain less worthwhile; there are similar jobs closer to home, in Germany and the Netherlands, for example.
14.The laborers who now come to Britain tend to be older and less skilled, according to farmers, who say hiring British workers is nearly impossible. “It’s disappointing that you can’t recruit U.K. nationals,” said Hardman of Hops, the agency that recruits seasonal laborers. “It’s not attractive for them. They find it beneath them.”
15.For Mitchell, the Scottish farmer, the issue is urgent and no longer limited to agriculture but to the entire economy. Everyone, he said, is fighting for the same labor pool. “It’s like the Wild West,” he said. “It’s the survival of the fittest.”
A Romanian migrant worker at Castleton Farm in Fordoun, Scotland.
Bulgarian migrant workers plant strawberries at Castleton Farm.