Guest workers shortage ‘hitting middle earners’

THE shortage of guest workers is hitting middle earners in the pocket the hardest, according to a builder.

GH Smit, Director of GH Interiors, said local business owners are concerned with how difficult it is becoming to get staff to the island for work. Guest workers face having to leave the island if they are on the 9 month/3 month off arrangements, and there are added complications with Covid and Brexit. (Picture By Sophie Rabey, 29656470)
GH Smit, Director of GH Interiors, said local business owners are concerned with how difficult it is becoming to get staff to the island for work. Guest workers face having to leave the island if they are on the 9 month/3 month off arrangements, and there are added complications with Covid and Brexit. (Picture By Sophie Rabey, 29656470)

GH Smit Interiors has been trading in Guernsey since 2007. Director GH Smit said businesses were now fighting for staff, and this would only fuel inflation.

‘I have a carpenter who a year ago was earning £28 per hour, but now I have to pay him £35 or risk losing him,’ he said.

Mr Smit currently employs two local people and eight guest workers from countries such as Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia. Most are currently working seven days per week, often for up to 12 hours per day.

‘We have to do it to get the work done,’ he said.

‘I need four more members of staff and possibly a further three by the end of the year.’

The firm was currently having to turn down work through a lack of staff and he feared for his company’s future if the situation was not resolved. The company’s biggest contract at the moment is fitting out 26 homes at Les Menages, St Martin’s, for the Guernsey Housing Association.

Mr Smit’s immediate concern is keeping the staff he has with the Committee for Home Affairs set to apply the law to the letter given the easing of Covid restrictions.

Two members of staff are on five-year licences – the remainder are on nine months on, three months off arrangements – and Mr Smit is due to meet with population management staff soon in the hope that they can be allowed to stay in the island.

‘I understand the argument that allowing people to stay here longer will give them housing rights but where is the evidence that people would like to live here permanently?’ he said.

‘Most of the people we are talking about have left their families back in their home countries, are living in inferior accommodation, and could not afford the price of houses here anyway.’

He appreciated that the States was bound by the law and had to police it, but he urged deputies to look at it again.

It currently costs £244 for a standard UK visa application. Mr Smit said the time it took meant it would be at least three months before the worker was on site.

He has been paying £592 for a five-day fast-track application, but that was not much better. One person who was lined up to come to Guernsey heard nothing from the UK visa office for three weeks after his application, he said.

‘We have to book flights before they can apply for a visa and when the visa doesn’t come as quickly as expected, flights have to be rebooked, which means extra cost.’

It currently cost about £1,500 to get a new member of staff once immigration, flights, and Covid test costs were taken into consideration.

Population management was trying to be supportive, he said. But he had spoken to at least 15 other businesses, including builders, hospitality and gardeners, and all were reporting similar problems.

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