This letter was written in response to a recent article Central Bylines published.
I won’t say that John Turner is wrong.
But I can’t say that he is right either.
The UK is clearly experiencing a demographic shift which in turn is causing labour shortages, BUT most of the rest of the world is also starting down that route even if they are not as far down it as we are. So, the first question must be is it right for us to export our labour problems or indeed can we continue to rely on recruitment of workers from abroad to fill our gaps?
Secondly there are the British diseases we need to address which are poor productivity, poor working conditions and failure to train. Importing labour addresses none of these.
The article mentions construction, yet despite a shortage of labour where are the training courses to turn out plumbers, carpenters etc. Similarly, there is a shortage of HGV drivers but potential applicants are expected to pay for their own training at a cost of over £3,000, and endure some pretty unpleasant working conditions. I see little willingness to address either issue despite the impact a shortage of lorry drivers is having in the UK.
In the same way, it was the treatment of workers in agriculture that led to the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. While it might have done something to curb some of the worst abuses in the sector it’s hardly surprising that British workers don’t want to work in many sectors of the industry. Surely rather than importing workers from abroad, the first thing to do is improve pay and conditions?
Finally, of course there is productivity, British workers on average produce less than European and North American ones. Using construction as a ‘for example’, we are still churning out in effect ‘hand built’ houses while our European neighbours are putting up pre-fabricated ones made in a factory to a much higher standard. Similarly, low pay and poor conditions don’t encourage investment to improve productivity. As a ‘for example’, does the primitive manual ‘order picking’ that goes on in many warehouses serving the ‘online’ shopper represent a sensible use of a scarce resource?
So, before we start importing labour, what about addressing some of the issues that are clearly contributing to our problems, and not allowing those sectors that are not dealing with their issues to import workers until they do?