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Cable slams PM’s ‘crackdown’ on EU construction workers

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has called on the government to abandon its proposed curb on construction workers coming to the UK after Brexit.

Last week prime minister Theresa May announced the government would adopt new immigration rules post-Brexit that would effectively stop ‘lower-skilled’ workers – which includes all construction site trades – coming to the UK.

She said: “The new skills-based system will make sure low-skilled immigration is brought down and set the UK on the path to reduce immigration to sustainable levels.”

Speaking exclusively to Construction News, Sir Vince said Mrs May was “obsessed” with numbers when it came to immigration policy and there was no case for blocking construction workers.

“The economic needs of the country do not call for a crackdown on construction workers,” he said.

With government guidelines currently classing all site trades as lower skill, they are also barred from obtaining tier two work visas, which would be the main route for migrant workers into the UK after the implementation period ends in 2021.

Sir Vince said this needed to be changed.

“Assuming Brexit happens – some of us are trying to stop it – then it [immigration policy] would need to be a lot more flexible with the tier two visa system than they are at the moment,” he said.

He warned that if the current policy was not changed, construction could be the industry worst-affected.

“An arbitrary cut-off at £30,000 or an arbitrary distinction between skilled and un-skilled leaves some industries in a serious predicament,” he said.

“The most serious is in the construction industry.”

Sir Vince joins construction industry bodies and chief executives in calling for the government to change its planned immigration policy.

The UK has come to rely on construction workers from overseas to meet demand, the former business secretary said, and would continue to need them for years to come.

“In the wake of the financial crisis, large numbers of people in the industry lost their jobs and became taxi drivers and whatever, and a lot of them haven’t come back,” he said.

“Years if not decades of under-investment in the construction labour force has created serious bottlenecks, and we’ve been relying on migrants to fill the gaps and in the medium term we will continue to need them.”

Sir Vince said Mrs May policy showed that the needs of the construction sector were not high on the government’s list of priorities.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Vincent Cable is absolutely correct - this country lacks skilled construction workers following building workers finding alternative employment after the financial crisis & lack of effective apprenticeships in the industry. What he did not add was that immigrant building workers frequently work harder than indigenous workers, are more skilled & use their own initiative when necessary. In my experience they are often multi skilled & will apply themselves to any feasible task.

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  • The industry is crying out for more construction labour, and as long as we have a million workshy Brits we will always need people from across the globe.

    We were due to have 5 new starters this morning on site, not one of them turned up - it's not unusual.

    Deeming our trades people as 'low skill' only proves what successive Gvt's have drilled into youth for years - "get a academic qualifications, or you'll end up thick and on a building site".

    When there are skilled lads pulling up to 2k a week nowadays and in high demand, I'd be content for my kids be "thick and low skilled" instead of 40k in debt by 24!!

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  • Yes I agree with the above comments. It's true that site work is seen by some as where you end up if you're thick and as a last resort. This is an insult to the highly skilled workers who use these same skills to build you your hospitals, schools, houses etc. etc. We have the ridiculous situation now where our children feel, or are pressured into going to university to get a degree. Many of them are not worth the paper they're written on as they'll find out when they finish loaded with debt and then can't get a job. If every other person has a degree then they become meaningless and 10 a penny. University should be for the very brightest, academically gifted and many young people would be far better off learning a trade and earning a good living.

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