Brexit, Covid and population rules are hurting businesses
BUSINESS leaders are calling on the States to suspend or revise the island’s population management legislation because it is now causing widespread staff shortages that are holding back economic recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Confederation of Guernsey Industry is urging chief minister Peter Ferbrache to get involved personally and make it a high priority because of the damage that is being caused by the lack of foreign labour.
This has been highlighted by one of the island’s leading cleaning companies, which had to turn down potential work with one of the island’s high schools, a large hotel and a major retailer because of immigration issues caused by the law.
‘Most sectors of the economy rely on a hidden army of workers to keep them going – the cleaners, gardeners, waiters, kitchen porters, shop assistants, delivery drivers etc, who are generally not valued or [are] forgotten by society and certainly not by population management policies and the UK visa system which we have by default had to adopt post-Brexit,’ said EasyClean’s Claire Archer.
The problem is that flexibility introduced by the States at the height of Covid for staff on nine months on, three months off arrangements is ending, and now all employees must leave when their permit expires, with no extension offered.
‘As a result, we will lose staff who we cannot replace at the moment,’ said Mrs Archer.
‘Even with zero income during lockdown in 2020 our business still contributed almost £200,000 to the Guernsey economy in employee income tax and social security payments.
‘Recruitment is the only thing holding us back.
‘Some joined up thinking is urgently required across all States committees to mend the economy and ensure future prosperity.’
The Home Affairs Committee has responsibility for population management laws.
‘The committee will consider this matter again shortly but remains committed to doing everything it can to support businesses, particularly those who have had a very challenging time during the pandemic,’ said president Deputy Rob Prow.
CGi chairman Dave Newman confirmed it had been working with EasyClean as a member, and had highlighted the issues outlined by the business with politicians and officials.
‘We know from working with the States on individual cases that it has shown as much flexibility as possible, but has exhausted all of the options within the existing Population Management Law,’ he said.
‘The legislation is no longer a civil service matter, rather it is a political issue that needs urgent action.’
The CGi has always maintained that the PML was out of date as soon as it was introduced in 2017 and should now be suspended or, at the very least, revised.
‘Gone are the days when the island was able to call on a steady supply of migrant labour and a system that facilitated their employment. The current regime serves to generate unnecessary red tape, so for companies that are still dependent on foreign staff, such as EasyClean, it has now become an impediment to doing business in Guernsey,’ Mr Newman added.
The CGi expects the States to address these obvious issues with the law and its impact in the aftermath of Brexit and the issues caused by Covid.
‘We would hope that the Chief Minister himself will make this a high priority given his experience in P&R and as he has also written on this very topic in the past as chairman of the 2020 Association,’ said Mr Newman.
Costs for potential cleaning staff to get into the island add up to almost £1,000
RECRUITING staff started to become a problem before Covid and is now a serious direct threat to many sectors and the wider economy, according to EasyClean business manager Claire Archer.
Post-Brexit, EU workers are no longer eligible to work in Guernsey unless they have previously worked in the island and been granted settled status.
New employees must first obtain a UK visa, which costs £244 for a year, and takes two to three months to process.
After that is granted, she said, they can then receive a population management permit to work and can buy flights.
However, currently everyone arriving into the UK must have a negative Covid test and must register on the UK passenger locator form and book Covid tests for days two and eight of their 14-day isolation.
As Guernsey is in the UK Common Travel Area, the UK is now insisting that anyone transiting to Guernsey must also have booked their tests for days two and eight even though the traveller will not be in the UK.
Then they must isolate in Guernsey and pay for two further tests.
‘All this before starting to earn any money,’ said Ms Archer.
‘As a business, we have absorbed some of these costs over the last year, but the cost of all of these measures can add up to almost £1,000 per person which is unfeasible for someone wanting a cleaning job on a seasonal nine-month permit.’
Guernsey was competing in the jobs market with other European/EU countries which had freedom of movement, no visas or permits, cheaper accommodation and payment in euros.
‘In comparison, what can Guernsey offer apart from better pay, which will have an inflationary effect on the local economy?’ she asked.
EasyClean had tried to work around these difficulties, with competitive pay as well as subsidised housing, and paying for isolation accommodation and any taxis required.
Some staff had worked for the company for 10-20 years but the loss of flexibility with permits meant it would lose staff who could not now be replaced.
EasyClean has about 25 staff with three in the office, and expects to lose about a quarter of them.
Home Affairs to review 9/3 permit exemption deadline of 30 June
PART of the current off-island recruitment difficulties stem from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, which means that EU/EEA nationals who enter the Bailiwick need to apply for an entry clearance visa via a UK online system.
That is in addition to a Guernsey employment permit application.
In a statement, Home Affairs president Deputy Rob Prow explained that a Discretionary Resident Permit enabled the holder to work in Guernsey for a maximum of nine continuous months before having to leave for at least three – the well-established, so-called 9/3 work permit.
There is no time limit on a person working in Guernsey based on a continued 9/3 permit.
The arrangement was originally part of the former Housing Control Law, which was replaced by the current Population Management Law in April 2017. The 9/3 permit was re-introduced in November 2017 to support businesses who valued its seasonal flexibility.
In November 2020, Home Affairs introduced an exemption to the 9/3 facility to allow individuals approaching their three-month break to remain in the island without being deemed to have broken their residency pattern, he said.
‘We made this decision to support businesses and their staff who relied upon this pattern as it was acknowledged that travel to other countries was difficult and expensive,’ said Deputy Prow.
We felt that if individuals left, they were unlikely to return to the economy.’
The decision at that time was for the exemption to remain in place until 30 June this year with Home reviewing it before the exemption expired.
‘The committee will consider this matter again shortly but remains committed to doing everything it can to support businesses, particularly those who have had a very challenging time during the pandemic,’ said Deputy Prow.