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To leave or not to leave. What the EU referendum could mean for electricians?

Posted by Christos Panayiotou on 29th March 2016

So unless you have been living in a cave for the last year you should know by now that there will be a referendum on the 23rd of June. On this date the nation will decide whether they wish to stay in the union or leave. As with most elections it is likely people will vote for the scenario they feel will benefit them the most both in terms of their financial and general wellbeing.

So the big question you will want to answer is will the UK construction industry be better off in or out of the EU?

Well unfortunately we cannot answer that question here at Trade Skills 4U. If we could then we would probably be teaching economics rather than electrics! However we can present to you some of the key arguments for both sides of the equation:

Skills Shortage

One of the biggest issues facing the construction sector is skills shortages. Across the whole of construction industry skilled labour from the continent has helped lubricate the cogs of our recent economic growth and we still have a huge demand for electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters and a whole host of skilled trades.

Yes I know there are lots of people who believe that foreign labour is taking your job but the reality is that without skilled labour from the continent many projects simply would not have got off the ground. In fact recent reports show that many companies are still turning down projects because they simply can not get the skilled labour they need to deliver the project.

Yes you may think that less competition for jobs means higher pay, however if the wheels come off the wagon of growth then the whole market will suffer. One argument to leave is that if we are out of the EU we can then choose which trades and which skilled labour can come and work where. But how much will that cost and what impact will that really have on the workforce? No one really knows.

Workers’ rights

Two of the main regulations that impact on workers’ rights are The Working Time Directive and The Temporary Agency Workers Directive. Depending on where you sit this can be seen as a reason to stay or to leave.

Employers are probably fed up of EU red tape meaning they have to limit workers hours and pay out holiday pay and other benefits to temporary staff.  As an employee you may well welcome these regulations as they mean you could be better off especially as a contractor.

However leaving does not guarantee that these regulations will disappear but David Cameron has already made it clear he would like to be able to ignore most of the employment rules imposed on the UK by Brussels.

I think generally speaking on this front a stay vote will benefit the most electricians and contractors. Protecting them from working excessive hours and giving them some added benefits even if on a temporary contract.

Environment

Of the top 5 most costly EU regulations 2 are listed above relating to workers’ rights and two others are the UK renewable energy strategy and the EU Climate and Energy package. Yes getting rid of these could save billions for consumers and companies, however probably not in the long run. If we can become more energy independent then long term these will be extremely beneficial policies.

And let’s not forget that forget that renewable energy tends to be the an electricians friend. There is a whole host of renewable energy technologies which rely on converting the energy they collect into electricity. Who can forget the solar PV boom just a few years ago. And now with the growth of electric cars which have zero emissions we can see the opportunities for electricians to branch out and grow continue to present themselves.

Generally speaking for electricians we believe that staying in the EU will have a positive impact from the environmental perspective.

Working abroad

Let’s not forget that labour can move in both directions. Here at Trade Skills 4U we have lots of students who intend to spend time working abroad. And why not? If you have a trade you can generally work anywhere in the world. However because electricians are highly regulated all over the world and EU it is harder for most to simply turn up and start working in any country without further training. Here in the UK we have one of the highest levels of regulation meaning it is usually easier for us to go abroad to work than for foreign electricians to come to the UK.

Cost of Materials & Tools

Where materials and tools are imported from inside the EU we may find that the cost of delivering projects will increase making them less viable. If the cost of delivering projects increases then you could find that the projects themselves do not get off the ground.

Uncertainty

The biggest issue that we think will impact upon people’s minds as we approach the referendum will be the impact of the referendum on our economy. Uncertainty in the run up to the referendum itself will impact on consumer and business confidence. The effects of this can already be felt which is one reason why the referendum has been announced and will take place in such a short space of time. Should we vote to leave the EU we will be entering completely new territory. Yes we have been outside before but we have never left it before. If we do vote the leave the shockwaves will be global. There will be enough of a shockwave to disturb an already fragile European and Global economy and who will be willing to take the risk of the unknown when we appear to be doing pretty well with the status quo.

As with the Scottish referendum we think that ultimately people will choose to stay despite some misgivings about the EU simply because it is the safest option.

Just 15% of construction companies support leaving

And that is probably the main reason why in a recent survey only 15% of construction executives supported an exit from the EU. This is a pretty clear indicator that the industry sees leaving as a huge risk and if this is their view now we can only assume that an exit would create havoc with our economy. This can only be a negative thing in the short term, however with time it is possible that the UK could bounce back stronger.

You will need to make your own mind up as to what you think is right or wrong, however remember, no one really knows what will happen if we leave and the impact it will have on jobs and construction. If we stay we know that things will stay the same and at present things seem to be going in the right direction. We think that the UK will vote to stay, but it is going to be a very close fought thing.

A simple way to decide in my view is think about how it actually affects you and your family directly, don't be influenced by politician spin or other talking heads with biased opinions, just drill down into your own life, you will then have your answer.