Frank Leavers coments on the serious shortage of labour in the UK at the moment. | MDB files


After being based here in the United Kingdom for the best part of a month, there are a few things that I have noticed as we go out and about and catch up with our family. For instance, if you go into any shop or visit a pub or restaurant you notice very quickly that you have to wait quite a long time to be served or for someone to visit your table.

Supermarket shelves, although never completely empty always seem to be on the verge of shortage - with goods pulled to the front of displays and although the shop is busy there are only about half of the check-outs in operation and the staff on duty seemingly working flat out and with that slightly resentful look about them. I remembered this as I read in a number of newspapers both local and national that there is a serious shortage of labour in the UK at the moment.

From shops and restaurants and right across the hospitality sector to transport and distribution, it appears that there are large shortages of staff everywhere and it is starting to become very obvious as well. I think that initially this situation was put down to Covid-19 and all its works including the recent ‘pingdemic’ as worker after worker was expected to stay away from work for days on end if they came within about ten miles of someone who had Covid!

However, that protocol has largely been dropped in the UK and the jobs situation hasn’t got any better at all - so much so, as to alarm both government and employers alike. For instance, has the much lauded UK furlough scheme become part of the problem, somehow drawing from those stood-down from work happy to be at home doing nothing and being paid for it?

If that seems little judgemental in this context, there is undoubtedly something going on in the labour market that wasn’t expected by either employers or government.
This labour shortage is not just affecting hospitality and retail it seems but potential job shortages right across the board and at all levels.

Surely there must be more to this situation than Coronavirus and all its works, because transport companies can’t seem to recruit HGV drivers any more and at the other end of the scale, even those in the so-called ‘creative arts’ industry are apparently hopelessly under-staffed. Whilst some point the finger at the pandemic, others take no time at all in accusing Brexit and all its works as being the real culprit in this unforeseen crisis. Or was it as unforeseen as we are told?

Anyway, it seems that in the UK we have come full circle in terms of employment - from ever growing unemployment constantly at the top of any governments political agenda, to the exact reverse at the present time. Nevertheless, I have become more than a little intrigued as to why government has said so little about the current employment situation, given the apparent severity of the situation.

Although it has been noticeable of late that large corporate employers are starting to feel that this problem needs addressing and soon. Could it be I wonder, that certain low paid jobs that used to be filled by EU citizens prior to Brexit have now gone unfilled because of a mixture of Covid-19 and Brexit pressures?

For instance, my son-in-law who’s job it is to award building and repair contracts for a large city councils property portfolio, tells me that at the moment it is very difficult to find contractors who are willing to undertake any of their work given the shortage of manpower available. Working alongside this problem, is that vital building and repair materials are in very short supply - this inevitably has led to the sky-rocketing of all costs on any given project.

It seems that we have come a very long way from a couple of decades ago where unemployment was rampant and queues at job centres were endless. Nowadays we are told the opposite is true and employers are at their wits end trying to employ anybody right across the workplace spectrum.

Just looking at the ‘Jobs Page’ in any local newspaper will convince even the most cynical amongst us that this employment crisis is very real indeed. So as if to complicate matters even further, the huge shift to home-working over the past eighteen months or so has added another uncertain element into this situation, with some desperate to get back to their old place of work, whilst others are more than content with working from home for the foreseeable future.

Locally, I see that some people working from home are now seeking extra payments from their employers because of the added electricity bills they are receiving because they’re working from home! Nobody perhaps realised the workplace revolution that was going to take place even when Covid-19 was perceived as controllable, or at the very least - to be able to live with it.

Funnily enough, it seemed to me that Mallorca and Spain was suffering from the exact opposite problems that are apparent over here. People desperate for work, but unable to find it were much more in evidence than potential employers desperately looking for staff - yes, the two economies are different in many ways, but for me the outcome in the UK has much more to do with a post Brexit reality than we all might guess at - for good or ill.