It’s not uncommon to hear people bemoaning the manner in which Britain only ever produces low wage, low productivity, jobs. This is why real wages have been rising only slowly. What we need instead is a policy to force up productivity, thereby wages.
Hmm, OK, there’s at least the nub of reasonable economics in that, productivity is pretty much everything in the long run. So, how do we do this?
Perhaps we corral all the labour force into classrooms for three years so they can be properly taught critical race theory? Well, it’s an idea but modern academia seems not to raise productivity very much if we’re to be honest about it.
We could demand that wages be raised. Well, we could, although that leads to certain problems. It will be true that the productivity of those in work rises but at the expense of those priced out of work entirely.
We could, perhaps, restrict the availability of cheap labour. That would increase the pay of those working and also increase the pressure on employers to invest in raising productivity. Sounds like a plan even:
Experts estimate that there are currently between 10,000 to 15,000 empty roles in the meat processing industry, equal to more than 10pc of the entire workforce, with vacant roles ranging from factory cleaners and packers, to highly skilled butchers.
Up until recently, many meat processing posts had been filled by EU nationals, in particular people from Eastern Europe. In some factories, EU nationals accounted for as much as 80pc of the workforce.
But, since the pandemic hit, many of those have gone back to their home countries, with travel restrictions preventing them from returning. Britain’s post-Brexit visa rules, meanwhile, have stopped others from the bloc from filling empty positions because workers in the meat industry don’t meet the set amount of points needed to enter under the new immigration system.
OK, so Brexit creates the skill and labour shortage.
Shortages are most acute in one specific area: butchers, a highly skilled role which requires 18 months of training. “That’s what we’re really lacking,” Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), says.
Up until late last year, a government advisory committee had been recommending that butchers be placed on the shortage occupation list (SOL) to make it easier for businesses to employ foreigners post-Brexit.
But we’ve already got a system which allows that:
“Butchers can still be sponsored as skilled workers where an employer is offering a salary of at least £25,600, in line with other non-shortage occupations.”
Cool. We’ve a shortage of butchers, the pay for butchers will rise, we’ve also a system in place to ensure that this is not too extreme a rise in costs in the industry.
We seem to be done, eh? Is there any problem which Brexit doesn’t solve?