Population law is the problem, not Brexit or Covid - chairman

ACUTE staffing shortages have prompted business leaders to demand quicker action from the States in overhauling Guernsey’s population laws.

Dave Newman, Confederation of Guernsey Industry chairman. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30118761)
Dave Newman, Confederation of Guernsey Industry chairman. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 30118761)

The Confederation of Guernsey Industry has called on Home Affairs president Rob Prow to accelerate plans for a review of the Population Management Law and not to use Brexit and Covid as excuses for labour shortages. This follows the States’ recent announcement of a limited relaxation in restrictions and its plans for a review in 2022.

‘It’s the law itself that’s the problem,’ CGi chairman Dave Newman said.

‘We’ve had meetings with Home Affairs, the Population Management office and Economic Development and they’ve been really helpful in trying to find solutions for individual cases, but they’re constrained by the existing law.’

Feedback from companies has been submitted to Home Affairs, illustrating some of the problems they face as a result of the legislation, which was introduced on 2 April 2017.

An increasing number of firms are concerned about experienced, reliable employees being forced to leave the island, necessitating costly and lengthy recruitment processes.

Even companies that have not experienced labour shortages themselves have been affected indirectly as a result of recruitment and retention issues faced by their contractors.

Mr Newman said one cleaning company had had to cancel contracts and had estimated that the States had lost £15,000 in tax and social security contributions in the space of three months.

The problem is affecting finance and other businesses, not just hospitality, he said.

It has been estimated that as many as 1,000 vacancies currently exist across all sectors, prompting companies to poach staff from each other and to cancel services.

‘Our message to deputies is “you want a booming economy, you want people in employment, let’s hurry up and make it happen”,’ Mr Newman said. ‘Ahead of the introduction of the PML in 2017, our members were clear about their opposition to it – that it was not fit for purpose – and that opinion is completely unchanged.’

He said there were only a couple of States meetings left this year in which Home Affairs could bring proposals for some kind of temporary or permanent solution and that the States should have nothing to fear.

‘The fear is that if we let people in with kids and families, then we’ll put a strain on our resources but what is the reality?’ he said. ‘The majority of licensed workers go back to their countries of origin. Let’s be honest, most posts that are filled by incoming employees don’t carry salaries that could enable them to buy property at Guernsey prices any time soon.

‘If we don’t see urgent action, we could be six months down the line with nothing having changed – not through tardiness but through the slowness of the machinery of government.’

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