GUERNSEY is in grave danger of damaging its way of life unless it changes the proposed population management legislation.
The stark warning comes from the Confederation of Guernsey Industry, which says that the new law on short-term employment permits will open a ‘skills drain’, leaving island businesses chronically short of trained and experienced staff.
And that will impact all those employers offering cleaning, catering, care, hospitality and other vital services to islanders, says CGi chairman Clive McMinn.
He is seeking an urgent meeting with Committee for Economic Development president Deputy Peter Ferbrache to press for a fresh look at elements of the new law and believes other business associations support the CGi’s concerns.
‘The people who are affected by this are classed as unskilled, but they are not. They are absolutely essential to Guernsey’s economy,’ said Clive. Unless the law is amended, the infrastructure and the way of life of the island is in peril.’
That is because so many businesses rely on the skill and knowledge of seasonal staff who work here for nine months, leave for three and then return for a further nine months.
Many have been doing so for years and that level of training and experience cannot be replaced by recruiting new people ‘off the street’, even if they could be found. The new population management regime allows for a fresh annual application for the same individual up to a maximum of five years, after which they cannot return, and the CGi says some staff have already received letters warning they have reached their five-year limit.
As a result, many other employees are already approaching the end of their five-year maximum, or else part-way through it, and are questioning whether there is any point working here at all, said Clive.
This uncertainty is compounded by the Brexit-linked fall in the value of sterling, making wages here less attractive for guest workers making it even harder for Guernsey to recruit the staff it needed.
He rejects suggestions that the CGi was consulted on the proposed population changes. ‘Individual members may have been, but we as a body were not,’ he said, ‘and in any event, we now see that the views of industry have been ignored.
‘We only realised that when the proposals were published, hence the urgency to address this potentially catastrophic draining of skills from the Guernsey economy.’
The CGi, which says the hospitality sector raised these concerns last year but was also ignored, has written to all deputies outlining the difficulties and urging a delay in implementing the regime for further consideration of the five-year rule.
‘We had just five responses,’ said Clive, ‘which is why we are looking to take this up with Deputy Ferbrache and Economic Development because the risk to the island’s economy is so widespread and risks turning the restaurant and hotel sector into a second class industry.’
These fears also reflect feedback from care homes, the care industry generally, growers, light industry, construction, retail and the financial and general service sector.
‘We have even lost the safety net of the open market,’ said Mr McMinn, because the five-year rule also applies to short-term staff living there.
He also rejects claims that amending the five-year rule will increase the size of Guernsey’s population. ‘We are talking about people who want to work here, not settle here, he said.