LONDON (Reuters) - British hotels, restaurants and food processing and construction firms would all struggle if they were no longer allowed to recruit European Union migrants into low-skilled jobs, according to a new study on Wednesday.
Curbing migration is a key goal for many Britons who plan to vote to leave the EU in a referendum on June 23, but many firms believe the economic cost would be large, Britain’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research said.
“From the perspective of employers in low-paid sectors, free movement works pretty well,” NIESR researcher Heather Rolfe said. “Restricting their access to this source of labor could have significant and damaging effects on many companies and the jobs of British workers they employ.”
Some firms have already seen job applications from EU migrants fall in the run-up to the referendum, she said.
NIESR’s findings were based on interviews with 24 unnamed firms in the hospitality, food and drink and construction sectors, conducted between November and March.
The number of staff employed ranged from 28 at a tea shop in southeast England to nearly 10,000 in a budget hotel chain, where around 60 percent of workers were EU migrants.
Low pay was only part of the reason why these jobs did not appeal to British workers. Firms said they often involved shift work or seasonal contracts, sometimes in out-of-the-way locations, and promotion chances could be limited.
Britain’s system of welfare, housing subsidies and tax credits does not deal well with unpredictable flows of income, and Rolfe said a lack of childcare was also often overlooked as a barrier for British workers.
Other employers, particularly in the construction sector, said the government should fund more training for British workers.
Rolfe said the firms she had spoken to did not see much difference between the quality of British and migrant workers, especially if the migrants had been in Britain for some time, and that they did not aim specifically to recruit migrants.
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Kevin Liffey