Written by Alex Fleming - Managing Director at Adecco Retail

If the UK votes to leave the European Union on 23 June, the move could have significant implications for UK employers – particularly in those sectors most reliant on EEA-born workers.

Workers from countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) account for 6% of the UK’s total workforce; this amounts to around 1.6 million employees. The reliance is however even higher in certain sectors, such as accommodation and food services (14%), and manufacturing (10%). Adecco Group UK & Ireland CEO John Marshall said: “EU workers also make up large sections of those industries in which the UK is still seen as a genuine leader, such as manufacturing, financial services and the sciences.”

Proportion of employees in each industrial sector that were born in the EEA:

EEA employees are more likely to work in lower skilled jobs − 14% of those in ‘elementary’ occupations and 13% of ‘process, plant and machine operatives’ were born in the EU – but they also make up a significant minority of other occupations, such as skilled trades (6%), professional occupations (5%) and managers and directors (5%).

Sir Vince Cable, speaking at an event organised by Adecco Group UK&I, raised concerns over the ability of UK employers to recruit adequate numbers of unskilled labour in the event of a Brexit.

“Where is this pool of domestic labour that we are going to draw upon, left by gaps by no longer bringing people in from overseas?” said the former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. "It’s not clear to me how turning off the tap of immigration deals with the issue of a labour market shortage."

Alex Fleming says:
"The referendum is already affecting the UK recruitment market, with a number of employers choosing to delay hiring decisions − especially where permanent hires are concerned. Businesses don’t like uncertainty; it’s not a great platform on which to invest. The UK’s ability to attract global talent could be hindered by any change to our relationship with the EU, and it might be employers that suffer.”