Trade groups have reiterated the need for continued protection of EU workers’ rights following the recent House of Commons vote to trigger Article 50.
The Bill itself was backed by a majority of MPs in the Commons (494 votes to 122), with an amendment that would have protected the residency of EU workers already living and working in the UK outvoted by 332 to 290.
Willie Macleod, executive director, Scotland, at the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said the lack of assurances for EU workers post-Brexit is “unsettling”.
“I think people who are already here, who have been contributing to our industry and economy, I think they will feel unsettled if they feel they are no longer welcome here, or can’t continue to live here,” he said.
“Some of them will have bought houses, some of them will have children at school, some will be in relationships with UK citizens.
“So it’s very unsettling for them to have any kind of question mark over their future.”
Macleod also raised concerns regarding future employment for the sector, saying that people wishing to work here “may feel that they’re less welcome”.
And if there are changes to the freedom of movement of EU citizens wishing to work in the UK post-Brexit, Macleod warned this could have a negative impact on the Scottish hospitality sector.
Speaking at the recent Christie & Co Business Outlook, Macleod said the “freedom of movement of people, both employees and visitors, remains critical to our industry”.
“If we’re going to continue to grow, we will continue to need staff from European countries,” said Macleod.
The BHA estimates that 18% of hospitality jobs in Scotland are held by non-UK citizens. Macleod said this highlights that “in Scotland, we’re dependent on migrant labour”.
Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), took a similar stance, and said initial findings from a BBPA member survey revealed 27% of its members’ workforce is from overseas – rising to 40% in metropolitan areas.
“We have always been clear that there should be no changes to the rights of our existing employees, and for the future, we will also need an immigration system that allows us to fill vacancies for skilled workers, including those with soft skills the sector needs,” said Simmonds.
She added that the BBPA “will be making this case strongly in the months ahead”.
And Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), said the tourism industry “has worked hard at communicating to employers, employees and government that EU migrant workers are a vital part of the tourism sector and that we welcome and value their contribution”.
“Tourism is an international business and it is therefore important that we are able to make it both accessible and attractive to a multi-skilled and multi-cultural international workforce wanting to carve out a career in our industry without barriers being put in the way,” said Crothall.
The Brexit Bill will now pass to the House of Lords, and Crothall said he hopes an amendment is made to give EU citizens living in the UK permanent residency post-Brexit.