Tag: Government

Government has received only 27 applications for temporary work visas

In response to the Government’s announcement regarding the granting of temporary visas to workers in the transport industry, Marian Khaliq, Partner and Head of Immigration at law firm Bishop and Sewel, said that the Government’s hostile post-Brexit immigration policies are responsible for prolonging the shortage of HGV drivers.

Khaliq said: “The Government was forced to act quickly after the shortage of HGV drivers recently resulted in fuel shortages, panic buying and the closure of some petrol stations.

“Other sectors, such as the food industry, have also been affected by labour issues, resulting in shortages of food supplies to supermarkets and restaurants, leading to fears of some foods being unavailable at Christmas.

“To deal with this, the Government will be issuing 4,700 ‘Seasonal Worker’ visas for drivers in the food haulage sector (expiring on 28 February 2022) and 5,500 ‘Seasonal Worker’ visas for poultry workers (which will expire on 31 December 2021). In both instances, the period of visa free access offered appears far too short to incentivise workers to come to the UK.”

Boris Johnson confirmed earlier this week that the Government had only received 27 applications. Other visas in the temporary seasonal worker category are usally granted for six months. Currently it’s estimated there is a labour shortfall of around 100,000 lorry drivers – triggered by an exodus of foreign nationals during the pandemic, coupled with post-Brexit immigration rules, and self-isolation requirements. The huge number of driver vacancies has been compounded by more general labour shortages affecting meat packing and fruit picking jobs – jobs previously done by EU nationals ­– which have impacted stock levels in supermarkets and fast-food chains.

Mariam continued: “The retail industry warned the government that, unless it took immediate measures to alleviate an acute shortage of haulage drivers, significant disruption was inevitable in the run-up to the Christmas season. In our new post-Brexit world, it is likely we will see the same labour shortage issues occur in other industries, unless the UK Government ceases with its inherently hostile attitude towards immigration.”

Photo courtesy of Canva.com

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Older workers suffer a chronic underinvestment  

In a bid to stave off an unemployment crisis, the Government has announced a new £500m support scheme to help workers who came off furlough at the end of September.  

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is said to announce new measures that will include prioritising those coming off furlough for one-to-one support from jobcentres and extending the £3,000 incentive for employers to take on apprentices until the end of January 2022.  

Sunak is expected to continue with his pledge to do “whatever it takes” to support people through the crisis. According to news reports, Sunak will announce more plans for investment in the nation’s infrastructure and skills network, including tech. 

Following the announcement that Sunak will be “throwing the kitchen sink” at helping unemployed Britons, industry experts have weighed in on Sunak’s plans and there have been mixed comments. APSCo for example, doesn’t feel that this will solve the skills crisis.  

Tania Bowers, Legal Counsel and Head of Public Policy at APSCo commented: “While the additional funds are a welcome move, our concern is that these initiatives need to have the appropriate financial support, backing and processes that are required to make them wholly successful. The Kickstart Scheme, for example, received a wealth of interest initially, but the success has been limited, largely due to the over-lengthy processes that are in place. As a case in point, of the roles APSCo submitted on behalf of its members to the scheme, just 22% were filled, with a number of staffing companies still waiting on any referrals at all.  

“We are also concerned that many of the initiatives – including the investment in skills and the changes to visa requirements – remain focused on the creative industries. There needs to be a clear plan that supports core skills development across all professions in the UK.” 

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO at City & Guilds Group weighed in, too: “Last week, the furlough system came to an end, leaving the jobs of a million people across the UK hanging in the balance. Half of those were workers aged 50 and over. Whilst unemployed young people saw interventions and safety nets put in place during the pandemic, unfortunately the same could not be said for older workers. Our recent Skills Index research highlights that older workers also suffer from a chronic underinvestment in training, meaning many will struggle to re-enter the workplace despite their wealth of knowledge, skills and experience.  

“Today, we have seen Rishi Sunak announce an extension to the Kickstart scheme as well as the introduction of an AI scholarship plan. Whilst these announcements are a positive step for the economy, they are once again tailored towards supporting young people. It is disappointing that the anticipated £500m support package for displaced workers, including support for older workers, was not mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech.  

“We still need to see more action from both Government and employers to recognise the value and potential of older workers. At a time where critical skills gaps plague the UK economy, it’s never been more important to support the full workforce, from those just starting out on their career through to those aged 50 and over.”

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The Government has missed an opportunity to do away with the “Wild West” of the umbrella market by choosing not to move forward with amendments to the Finance Bill, according to some in the contracting industry.

The amendments, tabled by David Davis MP and supported by Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP and Andrew Rosindell MP, were described as having the potential to ‘curb or kill’ the umbrella industry.

Essentially, the two options proposed would have either shut down the umbrella industry, or made agencies liable for unpaid tax if they worked with non-compliant umbrella companies.

However, the amendments were not selected for a vote in parliament last night, despite impassioned speeches by Davis and Duncan-Smith in the House of Commons.

“The umbrella companies and their unacceptable practices have now become very clear,” Duncan-Smith told the house. “Contractors are being forced into schemes, being forced by recruitment agencies to use these umbrella companies that they do not wish to use and may be concerned about.”

He said workers were often misled by umbrella companies, and referenced both the recent BBC File on 4 expose on mini umbrella companies and also the Loan Charge issue.

“The people who will get hurt by all of this in the end when the Treasury finally decides to do something about it will be the people that were the victims of this, not those who set these schemes up,” he said.

‘Missed opportunity’

Dave Chaplin, CEO of ContractorCalculator, who had been pressing for the changes and who also gave evidence to the Loan Charge All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry, said he was disappointed with the result.

“After considerable effort to attempt to shape reasonable amendments to the Finance Bill, it is disappointing that they were not selected to be voted on last night. Clearly, the Conservative majority would have been insurmountable and 40 rebels would have been required.

“The Treasury missed an opportunity to tame the ‘Wild West’ of the unregulated umbrella market and collect their £1 billion prize.

“The continued lack of regulation and impotence by the Government on this issue will only seek to fuel the non-compliance further.”

Crawford Temple, CEO of Professional Passport, expressed a similar view: “It is disappointing that after much considered and well-presented arguments by David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith last night the Government chose to dismiss the issues sought to be addressed.

“[Treasury Minister] Jesse Norman believes that adding enforcement to the remit of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI) will address the issues of non-compliance in the umbrella sector. I would like to remind the Government that EASI is already struggling with its existing commitments of regulation so I fail to agree that tasking an already over-stretched body with the job of regulating umbrellas will change anything and that the Government’s solution will merely serve to incentivise and fuel more non-compliance across the market.”

Stamping out malpractice

While umbrella organisations had understandably been opposed to the calls from some politicians to scrap umbrella companies entirely, legitimate providers have backed calls for regulation of the industry.

The report that resulted from the Loan Charge inquiry exposed significant malpractice in the umbrella industry, including companies providing kickbacks to

agencies for recommending them to workers.

This had come at the expense of workers, whose pay and/or benefits were often skimmed, and also the Treasury, which lost out on tax revenue.

“The problem is the worse the level of malpractice in this process, the greater the rewards and kickbacks for the agencies, reducing of course the revenue for the Treasury,” Duncan Smith said in Parliament.

Malpractice also makes it harder for legitimate and compliant umbrella companies to compete, said Chaplin.

“There are umbrella companies that run a vanilla compliant operation, with no reward schemes for agencies, and which treat workers fairly with reasonable charges, but they find it harder to access the market, because they lack the financial firepower to purchase space on an agency’s Preferred Suppliers List – for which six-figure sums can be exchanged,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Canva.com

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