The travel industry has been warned it must be “punchier” in defence of its future skills and immigration needs post-Brexit.
Charles Owen, co-founder of Seasonal Businesses in Travel (Sbit), a coalition of nearly 300 outbound travel companies, said he was tired of the travel and tourism sector failing to make its voice heard on vital Brexit issues.
He said debates too often featured representatives from other sectors, such as the fishing industry, which is worth far less to the economy than the £32.3 billion generated annually by outbound travel.
“We need to be punchier,” said Owen, speaking on a panel discussing the importance of labour mobility to travel at Abta’s “Brexit – the immigration and skills challenge” event on Monday (24 February).
He told delegates it was vital to distinguish between immigration and posted work, stressing Sbit members weren’t seeking any kind of immigration “status” for posted employees.
Abta has called for existing mobility arrangements, particularly for young people, to be extended to partially replace the EU Posted Workers Directive, which will cease to apply on 1 January 2021.
Owen said young people would be disproportionately affected if no new agreement is reached, citing Sbit figures that suggested about 87% of posted workers are likely to be aged 18-34.
He also revealed some of the struggles Sbit members may yet face quantifying the potential impact on members’ businesses and then communicating this to government.
Owen said the outbound travel sector would have to demonstrate a lack of alternative local labour in-destination to fulfil the seasonal roles occupied by posted workers.
On behalf of members, he said Sbit posted nearly 2,000 adverts in France for the kind of roles traditionally filled by posted workers for an eight-week period, and received just four responses – none of which it deemed credible.
“It’s quite extreme,” he said. “There’s just not the available labour there.”
Abta’s head of public affairs Luke Petherbridge said since the government had set out its skills and immigration framework, it was now about looking for “creative solutions” within that framework, adding any solutions would be “less burdensome” if they were reciprocal.
Tui Group HR director Caroline Kitcher added quickly and easily posting UK workers was “critical” to the holiday giant’s business.
“We need to fight the battle now,” she said, echoing Owen that failure to reach an agreement on posted workers risked labour and skills shortages.