Report looks at life post Brexit for the Lithuanians, Romanians and Bulgarians who now form largest group of migrant workers in Wisbech and Fenland

PUBLISHED: 17:00 07 November 2019 | UPDATED: 17:00 07 November 2019

A new report focuses on Fenland, an area of Cambridgeshire with a large population of EU migrants, and was presented at a national conference in Londonon Wednesday November 6 entitled 'Modern slavery and migration in rural areas: the impacts'.

A new report focuses on Fenland, an area of Cambridgeshire with a large population of EU migrants, and was presented at a national conference in Londonon Wednesday November 6 entitled 'Modern slavery and migration in rural areas: the impacts'.

Archant

Finding enough migrant workers to supply Fenland's factories and farms post Brexit is proving a financial boost to those wanting to stay here and work.

"Labour shortages have forced employers to increase pay and conditions in some cases to retain staff," says the 'impact of migration in the Fenland area' report.

"Employers and labour providers in Wisbech have already experienced some degree of difficulties in meeting labour demands due to a decline in migrant labour which predates the 2016 referendum."

The report says that some larger employers were investing more in automation,

others considering relocation, while others felt migrant labour was an economic

necessity which the post-Brexit migration system should accommodate.

The study shows Lithuanians at 37 per cent are the largest group of migrant workers, followed by Romanians at 23 per cent and Bulgarians at 20 per cent.

The migrant workers' project was commissioned by the Rosmini Centre Wisbech in autumn. The overall programme was focused on understanding the impacts of migration across Fenland, in preparation for planning to meet post-Brexit challenges.

Recent arrivals are said to have lower work skills, poorer or no English language skills, and often being older and from more rural areas of their countries of origin.

"This imposes additional costs on employers and agents who need to spend more time and resources training them to perform even basic tasks," says the report.

Employers have responded by increasing wages and working conditions and by offering better quality accommodation to attract more highly skilled labour.

"It was clear that a fall in the labour supply has been beneficial for the migrant workforce by compelling employers to make work more attractive," says the findings.

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"This will also be necessary if employers find that they need to fill vacancies from among local UK born workers in the future."

However it concludes that if UK workers are to fill the gaps there needs to be "an adjustment of attitudes among 'local' workers to field and factory work as well as challenges around poor punctuality, absenteeism and low productivity among the UK born population".

The report says employers are planning how to secure a reliable supply of labour post-Brexit but acknowledge that this will depend largely on the nature of the post Brexit migration system.

Many of those quizzed for the report thought it was premature to discuss the impact of Brexit, as much will depend on the nature of the settlement and exit arrangements made between the UK and the EU.

There was a considerable concern noted over restrictions on freedom of movement, especially for low-skilled workers, and the possible introduction of a work-visa system and the impact of these changes on labour supply.

"Obviously once visas get introduced that will have a large impact on the number of people coming over...I'm sure we will see a large decline in the number of people

coming once that is introduced," one employer reported.

Another noted a recent trend of fewer EU nationals but more non-EU nationals coming in for work and felt that this was a potential source of labour post-Brexit.

Some companies argued that little will change in practice because the economy is too reliant on overseas workers to enable this sector to collapse, and that labour driven migration will remain open.

"I can't see it changing because we need foreign nationals too much over here, we've become too reliant on them," he told the researchers.

Lead researcher Professor Margaret Greenfields, of Bucks New University, said: "This study has clearly highlighted the importance of migrant labour to the local economy and growing levels of integration, often enhanced by the relationships which form when children of migrant workers enter school.

"We would stress however that it is important not to become complacent, particularly in relation to the poor accommodation conditions experienced by many migrant workers in housing of multiple occupation or shared properties, which can have considerable impacts on health and wellbeing of individuals and families in such circumstances."

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