When it comes to sourcing EU staff after Brexit, the picture is quite unclear. And business bosses must make it their responsibility to ensure they’re aware of what they need to do to retain their EU employees
For the UK’s SMEs, the last three years have been dominated by one concern: Brexit. Since 2016, companies have had to steer through a seemingly constant sea of confusion and conflicting information to try and prepare as best as they can for life beyond EU membership – from working out how to keep their supply chains running to the question of whether they should relocate entirely.
However, one of the most pressing areas of concern for SMEs is the issue of employment. The rights of EU migrants to remain in the UK was one of the single most significant issues surrounding the Brexit vote and the situation has remained a major point of contention even after the referendum.
Companies who employ EU staff or rely on talent from overseas will need to be sure of where they stand – what is the next step for those employers who are based in the UK but have staff from the EU on their payroll? Whether a last-minute Brexit deal is arranged or the spectre of no-deal becomes a reality, businesses should be putting plans in place – especially when it comes to their EU staff.
Some industries will be more likely to be affected by this issue than others – for instance, 14% of the accommodation and food services industry is made up by EU workers, compared to 6% for information and communication. But it’s still a pressing issue for most employers and especially for SMEs, who often can’t afford to lose multiple team members at once. Of 400 companies surveyed by the Bank of England, the majority claimed to be finding it more difficult to recruit and retain key staff as a result of the Brexit vote.
Fortunately, retaining your current EU staff is a manageable task – with the right preparation. The rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK are secure, provided they apply for settled status between March 2019 and March 2021. SMEs should be encouraging their EU staff to secure settled status as quickly as possible, including offering advice and support to help them through the application process.
A number of businesses are even offering to cover the cost of the application fee for their EU workers. If you believe that the long-term value of the staff you will retain is greater than this combined cost, this can be a good way of supporting employees through a difficult period. Plus, it may reduce the need for a costly and time-consuming new hiring process. However, you should also be wary of any potential tensions arising with your non-EU staff.
At this stage, consulting and communicating with any affected staff is the key. As well as providing a clearer insight into what their intentions and priorities are, this will also help to clarify your own intention to work towards securing their positions – an important part in convincing them that staying on with your company is a viable option for their future. While the government has announced plans for a temporary visa system, employers agree the plan is woefully inadequate to maintain the current overseas talent pool.
Businesses with an eye on growth and expanding their workforce should also be considering their long-term recruitment options, whether than means establishing a legal entity within the EU or eventually moving their business altogether. For now, however, the UK’s SMEs should be taking swift and decisive action to make sure their EU staff have the security they need.