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UK Labor Shortage Sparking National “Bregret”

Beatrice Ieronimo, Staff Writer

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Just over a year ago, a polarizing vote of 52% to 48% resulted in the United Kingdom deciding to leave the European Union (EU). The vote not only led to the UK’s split from the EU, it also caused a split within the UK.

In the ten years preceding Brexit, the UK saw an increase of 1.2 million migrant European laborers. These people were invaluable to UK employers— specifically in more “menial” lines of work, such as retail, agriculture, and hospitality— for a couple of reasons. The first is that immigrants tended to work for lower wages than their UK-born counterparts, making hiring them ideal for employers seeking affordable labor. The next is that historically high levels of work vacancies in the UK’s job market are draining “lower” lines of work of their laborers, leaving a wide-open space easily filled by eager migrant workers. When the Brexit vote came, many used it to change this “dependency” on foreign laborers.

A key aspect of pro-Brexit voters’ agendas was adopting an immigration policy that would limit the surge in European (specifically Eastern European) immigration to the UK. By 2016, the UK was facing ten times the annual European migration as it did in 1993, racking up three million European immigrants in all. Brexit sympathizers viewed exponential migration as abusive to the freedom of labor laws allowing foreign entry in the first place. In addition, these voters feared undesirable globalization and reduction of jobs available to UK citizens as the result of open borders. This group was large enough to win the majority in the Brexit vote, and the result has been reduced foreign worker participation in UK.

Racist sentiments and the depreciated pound (£) have reduced the desirability of migrating to the UK for some immigrants. Visa insecurity is also decreasing the UK’s foreign appeal.

Immigrants, European and Non-European, feel isolated to the point of leaving the country, and the UK is not doing much to counter the outflow of people. One solution offered to migrant workers is a sponsor relationship with their employers. Under these terms, an employer sponsors an immigrant to join his or her labor force; however, such conditions degrade the individual value of the worker. In addition, laborers tend to resent the financial compensation their sponsors receive in comparison to their own salaries. Other than this, no real solutions are being offered. UK politicians are reluctant to address such solutions as seasonal visas because of how contentious border control was around the time of the Brexit vote.

Immigrants are not the only ones suffering from the effects of political disunity: the UK’s most lucrative industry is suffering as well. The UK’s food manufacturing industry is the largest manufacturing job-sector in the UK economy, and, per the National Farmers Union (NFU), thirty-three percent (33%) of its labor force is composed of immigrant workers. If the job market continues to drive away immigrant workers, more and more farmers will begin to decrease production of labor-intensive cash-crops, such as the iconic British asparagus, courgette (zucchini), broccoli, and Halloween pumpkins. The lack of affordable labor has resulted in a spike in produce costs for consumers, as up to 60% of production costs are now composed solely of worker wages. The issue of labor shortage has more wide-reaching effects than expected, and now affects people of every working class.

Some critics suggest that the UK should back away from its policy to reduce migration. Since 2010, the UK has been attempting to restrict their annual migration to ten thousand people but since that year, they have received upwards of 100,000 annual migrants. These critics view efforts to reduce immigration not only as futile, but also as a burden to working class employers who have insufficient access to the labor they need. Such employers argue that UK politicians should first take legal steps to guarantee employer rights, rather than solely taking steps to restrict free labor laws.

Such cries for reform from people of all classes prove the wide-reaching negative effects of recent UK decisions. If UK politicians do not unite in their mission to best serve the national interest, they are setting a dangerous precedent for future politicians.

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