Support Our Skilled Manufacturing Workforce!
For over one-year now Fashion-Enter Ltd has been fighting for the rights of skilled machinists to ensure they are recognised as ‘skilled’ and can continue to work under the new points-based immigration system.
CEO Jenny Holloway has attended discussions in Parliament, featured in Drapers and appeared on the ITN News to explain why a post-Brexit UK needs to retain this skilled workforce. Collaborating with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Textiles and Fashion, MakeUK and many other UK manufacturers, the aim is to get the government to change its stance on machinists – categorised as ‘low-skilled’ and therefore failing to meet the required number of points to work in the UK.
In July 2019 the APPG sent out a survey to manufacturers across the UK to map the current state of employment in the UK garment manufacturing sector. More than 80% of respondents considered stitching to be a high-skilled job, the rest considered it to be medium-skilled. No respondents thought it to be a low skilled job. The skill requirement is further evidenced by the five-years of training necessary to become a skilled operator. One respondent noted that there may be up to 14 different operations necessary for the completion of a garment, which is definitely not a task for a low-skilled workforce.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent, non-statutory, non-time limited, non-departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office aims to advise the Government on migration issues, through transparent, independent and evidence-based advice. In March 2020, the Home Secretary commissioned the MAC to compile a UK Shortage Occupation List, which will cover all occupations in the RQF3-5 bracket (medium skills). As a result, MAC has launched a Shortage Occupation List: Call for Evidence, which is open until 24 June 2020, to hear organisations’ views on:
● The roles that are being filled by migrant workers
● The salaries they are paid
● The implications of the potential changes
Any textiles and fashion industry businesses are encouraged to submit answers to the MAC consultation on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) to highlight the labour needs and the importance of EU migrant workers for UK businesses. The Mac will deliver the report by September 2020.
In MAC’s paper “A Guide to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)”, released on 27 May 2020, it is stated that all occupations eligible for the future skilled-worker route of the points-based system, which start with RQF3 and above, will be eligible to be placed on the SOL.
The fashion and textiles professions, as of other sectors that are at RQF level 3 or above, are eligible for the skilled-worker route in the new points-based immigration system. Furthermore, they are eligible to be placed on SOL, for which MAC runs a call for evidence, open until 24th of June.
The occupations on SOL worth 20 points in the points-based immigration system, and enable those with job offers from £20,480 (minimum) salary to acquire the total of 70 points for eligibility to enter in the UK, if they comply with the other requirements: offer of a job by an 3 approved sponsor (20 points), job at an appropriate skill level (20 points) and speaking English at the required level (10 points).
Out of the respondents to the APPG for textiles and fashion survey, more than half employ EEA citizens for machinist roles, and only around 20% employees are non-EEA citizens. Manufacturers based in Greater London boasted the highest number of EEA machinists relative to their machinist workforce, whereas manufacturers based in the East Midlands, which includes manufacturing hotspots such as Leicester, had the highest number of domicile workers. Across all regions, no manufacturer employs more non-EEA citizens than they did either British nationals or EEA nationals.
Furthermore, more than 80% of respondents currently have unfilled machinist vacancies, and out of the manufacturers who have opening positions, the number of vacancies accounts for an average of 65% of existing positions. One respondent reported six open positions for every position filled. When asked whether the UK currently has sufficient domestic skill and interest to fulfil the empty roles, more than three-quarters of respondents answered ‘No’.
Additionally, more than half of respondents think Brexit will contribute to an increase in machinist vacancies. A worrying amount, considering that respondents have cited up to 30 machinist vacancies per factory. If employers are currently struggling to recruit, the process will be further complicated after freedom of movement with the European Union will cease. Respondents also noted that in manufacturing hotspots such as Leicester, there is very high competition for labour supply, which puts smaller manufacturers at a disadvantage. Bringing in foreign workers would increase the labour supply, allowing the industry to further prosper as it would sustain the operation of existing companies.
The lack of skilled labour could potentially risk local jobs, as factories that are unable to continue their operations due to lack of labour could choose to relocate or even shut down. Many manufacturers in the UK are micro companies, which employ less than 10 Staff. If retailers are not able to satisfy their demand from UK manufacturers, they have an incentive to move to suppliers in other EU countries.
The MAC recommendations helped to bring down the skills threshold from RQF6 to RQF3, and has opened the opportunity for occupations at RQF3 skills-level to be eligible for SOL. In this regard, evidence from the sector is needed for the engagement in the open consultation with MAC. Fashion and textiles companies need to provide evidence in the MAC consultation on SOL to support the industry by sending their answers on the Governmental portal before 24 June 2020. Let’s not miss this opportunity to stand by and support our skilled production workers.