I recently wrote a blog entry on Brexit for my continental and Irish EU fans over at Zukunft Personal. It’s here. HR departments in the UK have a very different set of concerns, though some do overlap. After over two years of political drama, intrigue, and faffing around, the UK finally has a “deal” on Brexit. In reality this isn’t a “deal”, but a withdrawal agreement which will allow for the UK to have a relatively orderly exit from the EU’s political structures. Think of it as a treaty which puts the UK’s European affairs in order before moving on, and as such it is mostly silent on what will happen within the borders of the United Kingdom after Brexit.
Though there are employment opportunities arising from Brexit, these are almost exclusively in the civil service, with thousands of new personnel needed to handle the problems arising from Brexit. Outside of that, businesses are closing and economic damage is being done. Uncertainty is one of the main issues which is frightening investment, but the uncertainty around Brexit is not limited to economics. Virtually nothing about it appears to be certain or even particularly thought through.
As far as human resources is concerned, there are five questions that HR departments in the UK need answers on, as urgently as possible.
1. The UK currently charges a levy on employees who come from outside the European Economic Area, the ‘Immigration Skills Charge’, (sometimes also called the “xenophobia tax”), amounting to £1000 a year (though there was talk of increasing it to £2000 per year). It is not currently applied to workers from the EEA because single market rules on freedom of labour would make it illegal. Come Brexit day, this is no longer the case. So after Brexit, will this levy apply to citizens of the EEA as well?
2. Will EU qualifications, drivers licenses, medical licenses, and other important means of establishing competence to work still be recognised in the UK?
3. Will EU citizens be required to have work permits or some form of visa after Brexit? If so, will they need it immediately on exit day, or will there be a grace period? What will be the conditions set around these?
In the case of all three previous questions, will the changes apply to all EU citizens currently residing and working in the UK? Or will they be applied to newcomers only? Or not at all?
4. On a related issue, the UK indicated it will “shadow” European Court of Justice rulings on some matters. Does this extend to how the UK will interpret employment law? Will the rulings be binding or merely persuasive? Will the government publish a guide on how employers can ensure legal compliance with employment law after Brexit?
5. The UK is currently experiencing a serious skills shortage in a whole array of areas. It needs qualified people urgently. The UK also has a serious labour shortage in vital but low skilled areas, such as agriculture. Many industries are already in crisis due to lack of people available to work in them. The rhetoric and political direction has made finding people a lot more difficult, as the UK is now seen as a less hospitable environment for foreign people to work. Platitudes about “Global Britain”, assertions that this crisis isn’t real, or insane ideas about getting venerable retirees to do back-breaking manual labour are not going to cut it any more. Most HR departments have either experienced the recruitment crisis first-hand or have had exposure to others who have. What measures are you taking to solve the crisis before it turns into a catastrophe? (Tip: getting rid of the xenophobia tax would be good start).
There are many other questions which need to be answered. But these are the ones which, urgently, require clarification and responsible consideration. The Punch and Judy show of Westminster is sometimes seen as very far removed from the lives of ordinary people and businesses in the UK, and Brexit has taken this phenomena to extreme levels. The decisions, or lack of decisions, being taken today will have repercussions that will effect people for decades to come. But the lack of leadership and realism from all sides of Parliament is having real and painful consequences for those ordinary people and businesses. It’s long past time for Parliament to be honest with itself and the public it is supposed to represent, and provide real answers and solutions to the dire problems the UK and its people now face.