As the UK government triggers our exit from the European Union, a key initial focus for UNISON is the impact on members who are EU nationals and the public services that rely on them.
One of the many difficulties in dealing with this issue is the paucity of accurate data on the number of EU nationals working in Scotland. The data that exists doesn’t capture all of those working in Scotland or are based on statistically small samples for estimates. As an NIESR report last year highlighted, the numbers are likely to be significantly larger than the official statistics.
The Scottish Government has just published a paper based on the Annual Population Survey. It found that in 2015 there were around 181,000 non-UK EU nationals living in Scotland representing 3.4% of the total population. This is lower than for the UK as a whole, where non- UK EU nationals represent 4.9% of the total UK population. 30% of these are under 16. 47% of all EU nationals in Scotland are Polish nationals.
Just over half live in three city areas: Edinburgh (21.8%), Glasgow (17.6%) and Aberdeen (12.7%). This compares to just a quarter of the total population of Scotland living in these cities.
This means 115,000 EU nationals are in employment (75.9%). 28.6% of these work in ‘distribution, hotels and restaurants’ followed by 19,600 (17.1%) in ‘public admin, education and health’ - services within UNISON’s sphere of influence.
Over one-third have degree level qualifications or higher. However, they are significantly less likely to be working in high or medium skilled jobs (56%), commensurate with their qualifications, than the Scottish workforce as a whole (79%). The median gross hourly earnings for EU national working full-time in Scotland in 2015 was £9.00 compared to £12.20 for full-time UK nationals. EU nationals have had consistently lower hourly earnings than UK nationals, on average around £3.15 less than UK nationals since 2007.
The next stage is to ensure that our members and the services they deliver are protected.
The Cavendish Coalition brings together 34 health and social care organisations working across the UK (including UNISON) to make certain that the health and social care system is able to retain and continue attracting the staff it needs – domestically, from Europe and globally, following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. They have written to the UK government and the First Minister of Scotland, setting out three priorities:
- Permanent leave to remain for EEA nationals in the health and social care sector: To provide certainty for individuals and employers providing services to our people and communities, we are calling on the Government to quickly confirm the right to permanent residence of all people from the EEA working in social care and health care across the UK. We have also highlighted the need for a streamlined and inexpensive process for claiming leave to remain which does not create additional administrative burden on employers.
- Sufficient transitional arrangements for EEA nationals leave to remain. In order to ensure a stable pipeline of staff, we are urging any ‘cut-off’ date at which EEA nationals resident in the UK would be eligible to apply for permanent leave to remain to be late as practicable. For the stability of workforce supply, there should also be sufficient advance notice of any ‘cut off’ date to enable health and social care employers and candidates to make preparations and informed choices.
- An immigration system which supports health and social care provision: Efforts to increase domestic workforce supply are vitally important and the Cavendish Coalition is committed to increasing local opportunities for UK citizens to train and work in the health and social care sectors. Increasing domestic supply will, however, take time. Both during the negotiating period and in the years after the UK leaves the EU, providing high quality and sustainable health and social care services will depend on workers from within and outside the EEA.
UNISON Scotland has made similar points in submissions to the Scottish Government and to parliamentary inquiries. Scotland’s care system needs EU and non-EU nationals to deliver a growing demand for health and care services.