FTA deputy chief executive James Hookham’s comments follow a Home Affairs Committee report on migration, which found that the Government was yet to set out any substantive proposals on long-term migration between the UK and the EU.
He claimed that the political emphasis on Brexit was focused on trade and borders, sidelining future immigration policy for a later date.
“EU workers represent more than 12% of the UK's logistics workforce, yet this lack of clarity on their future status has left their employers in limbo, not knowing whether they will be able to continue employing them under their current contracts after Brexit,” said Hookham. “An employee's right to work in the UK is a pre-condition of most employment contracts.”
Too late to plan
Hookham warned that the Migration Advisory Committee’s findings, which are due to published in the autumn, would appear too late for businesses that were already planning for 2019 and beyond.
He also pressed Government to assure the industry on the availability of seasonal workers from the EU to support fluctuations in trading requirements.
"Around a quarter of warehouse operators tell us that EU workers make up 75% or more of their agency staff,” Hookham explained.
“If these people cannot be employed in the UK after Brexit, their absence would pose a real threat to the supply chain, particularly for the e-commerce sector and other businesses relying on daily deliveries.”
‘Knife-edge of uncertainty’
He warned that businesses were currently living on a “knife-edge of uncertainty” about the future. They did not know when they would be able to write to their employees who hold non-UK EU citizenship and confirm their employment status after Brexit, he said.
“The decision to commission the Migration Advisory Committee to look into the role of EU workers in the UK took over a year to make, which means the whole process of confirming the options for business has already been delayed,” added Hookham.
“Now is the time for swift action from Government, to provide clarity for the workforce and their employers, and ensure that Britain can keep trading efficiently in a post-Brexit world.”
Meanwhile, the just-in-time supply chain is at risk of becoming “just-too-late” post-Brexit, grinding manufacturing to a halt and driving up prices, according to an expert in food law.