LONDON MAYOR, Sadiq Khan has called on Government to create temporary visas for construction workers.
In September 2021 the UK-wide vacancy rate in construction rose to its highest recorded level since 2001 and vacancies in construction were 40% higher in summer 2021 than in the three months before the pandemic. Last year the Government instigated a temporary visa concession for EU lorry drivers and poultry workers to come to the UK.
Construction Temporary Visas
The Mayor is proposing that ministers create a Coronavirus Recovery Visa to address the shortages of workers in construction. The visa should offer at least 12 months to work in the UK and be tailored to construction where many workers prefer to work on a self-employed basis.
Some of the construction labour shortages could have already been addressed had the Government implemented the recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee’s October 2020 review to add ‘Bricklayers and masons’ and ‘Electricians and electrical fitters’ to the Shortage Occupation List. The Mayor is also calling for a regional shortage occupation list that allows London and other cities to attract and retain staff in sectors with acute labour shortages.
Before Brexit, the London’s migrant building workers were more than half the workforce, being from the EU and beyond. ONS figures show that the number of construction workers in London from the EU fell 54% between April 2017 and April 2020. The problem is made worse because the UK-born construction workforce is ageing, with an estimated 10-20% reaching retirement age in the next 5 years.
Construction workers are needed in London with 13,318 affordable homes started last year, and the capital is also undergoing a council housing renaissance with boroughs starting more homes last year than at any time since the 1970s. However, this progress could be put at risk if construction sector employers cannot access a site-ready workforce to help build the homes Londoners need, the Mayor says.
London Construction Training
Whilst construction temporary visas would provide a short-term fix, the Mayor is helping to recruit London workers through the Mayor’s Construction Academy (MCA), training them in the skills needed to access vacancies in the capital’s developments, in trades, professions and management. Since the MCA programme’s launch, more than 24,500 Londoners have completed construction training.
The Mayor is also a signatory to Unite the Union’s Construction Charter which sets out to improve the city’s construction standards, protect workers and outlaw poor construction practices. The charter ensures building contractors and sub-contractors under the control of local authorities provide apprentice training, a safe working environment, and the industry rate of pay to workers.
City Hall’s official assessment of housing need in London found that the city now requires around 66,000 new homes a year.
London Housing Crisis
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “Tackling London’s housing crisis has always been one of my top priorities since becoming Mayor. We’ve worked tirelessly over the last five years to get London building again, and the construction sector forms a key part of London’s Covid recovery plan. However, both our recovery and efforts to deliver the genuinely affordable homes Londoners desperately need could now be put at risk if there isn’t the skilled workforce available to build them.
“The Government must look beyond their current blinkered approach to immigration and recognise the impending crisis that is already enveloping one of our most vital industries.
“Training our own people to take on jobs in the construction sector is an admirable aim and one we’re working hard to meet but in the meantime, we need skilled tradespeople on site now to manage the short-term crisis and build a strong recovery.”
Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “While the construction industry has been struggling with skills shortages for some years, the impact of the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU have intensified the issue.
“Long-term action to improve and encourage greater numbers into the UK’s skills system is necessary, but short-term solutions like emergency visas will be a real shot in the arm for an industry under pressure.