Susan van de Ven

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon Learn more

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Letter received on Friday

by Susan van de Ven on 5 November, 2018

This letter was sent to all Cambridgeshire County Councillors.

Dear Ms van de Ven,

My business is based in Cambridge (although I live in a nearby village) and manufactures high tech equipment used to test power cables connecting offshore wind farms. 85% of our business is with EU companies based outside the UK. All of these companies are actually part of a complex global supply chain building UK windfarms. We have been supported by the DIT at multiple European export events. When we sell a £100,000 tester it comes with a number of supporting services (installation, training, project management, technical support etc). We handle this from the UK with UK staff (“Posted Workers” as we are known when we travel to other EU countries) and make frequent short trips to our customer sites often at the very last minute. For example, a customer will ring up today and we’ll be expected to be on site in Rotterdam tomorrow. It’s all very just-in-time but one has to be flexible to win work in this industry

Last week I was called to a meeting in Holland. Our customer is concerned that we will not be able to support them if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal. At least in the Dutch business community, they expect this to be the most likely outcome of the negotiations. I know you are going to say “we are working on a deal” but this message is not getting through to European companies. Our customers are a multi-billion Euro industrial conglomerates, they are diligently performing no-deal contingency planning (I also suspect our EU competitors are bringing these matters to their attention).

The EU do not like “Posted Workers” very much.

The UK do not like “Posted Workers” very much.

A loophole in the freedom of movement rules allows a Polish/Romanian temp agency to employ staff in Eastern Europe (where labour is cheaper) and to transport and accommodate them in a relatively expensive country like the UK. They can be “posted” to a different country within the EU on a short term basis for less than 12 months. They cost less than local UK staff and this has directly contributed to reduced pay levels right across the UK (and other Western European countries). You often hear people complaining of the 8 Eastern European guys living in the 3 bedroom house down the street. They are probably posted workers on short term contracts. The EU, quite rightly, do not like the fact that employers often deduct travel and accommodation costs from staff wages. The individuals themselves end up earning really very little and consequentially work very long hours. I can imagine there are one or two big online retailers who ‘employ’ their drivers this way.

The EU put a stop to this on 21 June 2018. All countries in the EU, including the UK, have 2 years to implement the legislation. The revised rules aim to ensure that workers receive the same pay and rights as local workers, even if they are on a temporary assignment in a different EU country.

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Our highly technical UK staff are also treated as “Posted Workers” when we travel to EU countries for a couple of days to support our product. I’m very concerned that our staff, along with 40,000 other, mainly high-tech, UK Posted Workers will be sacrificed in the stubborn Brexit-at-any-cost process the Government seem to be pursuing.

My customers are concerned that non-EU nationals currently need a “Schengen Visa” for travel to the Schengen zone. These require a considerable amount of paperwork and are currently rarely processed in under two months (and that’s based on today’s workload which will presumably increase massively if all UK travellers need visas). Let’s assume we can get a multi-entry visa so we don’t have to repeat this for every separate trip. The trouble is we cannot apply until the UK leaves the EU so there will be at least 2 or 3 months when we are unable to make support visits to Europe, unable to provide on-site support will destroy our business. Our client is strictly unable to allow work under “tourist visa” terms as there are severe legal consequences for EU companies that do that.

This brings me to the more important issue. Non-EU Nationals also need an “EU Blue Card” work permit to perform “value added” work inside the EU. The term “value added” apparently means anything other than an occasional business meeting. Details here To get one of these will be much more difficult, if not impossible. An EU sponsoring company must apply on your behalf and give you an employment contract of more than 12 months. The company must prove they have advertised and failed to find EU workers who can do equivalent work, only then can they apply. The conditions are fairly strict (hence why there are not many Americans, Africans, Indians etc officially working in Europe). You need a university degree or 5 years of professional experience. It currently takes around 4-6 months to apply. I suspect this will be a huge problem. I can’t imagine any of our clients wanting to offer a 12 month contract for a 1 or 2 day visit or to go through the hassle of applying on our behalf. It’d be so much easier for them to use an EU based person or company. Even if they did want to take on the admin and responsibility I’m not sure we would qualify anyway (given we don’t all have university degrees).

This sort of admin delay will essentially destroy our business. Our European competitors are busy spreading this message for their obvious commercial advantage.

What am I supposed to say when my client needs us on site tomorrow but there is a 4-6 month admin process to get a visa and work permit?

I hear a lot of MP’s pompously saying how WTO rules are not the end of the world. What they seem to forget, or don’t understand in the first place, is that WTO rules do not allow our people to travel to the EU to perform any “value added” services to support our producs. If our customers cannot get support there will be no sales. It’ll destroy our business overnight.

This is already costing us time, money and sales.

My only hope is that Cambridgeshire County Council, along with many other county councils, will push for an “Peoples vote (with an option to remain)” so we have a chance to abandon this crazy Brexit mess. I’m astounded that the Conservative party, the party for business, is creating a situation which will destroy many high-tech export businesses as their UK staff will be unable to work inside the EU to support their products.

I realise that there are only about 40,000 “Posted Workers” from the UK so it’s probably not on the top of your list of priorities. However, it cannot be right to sacrifice the livelihoods of these people, to ruin these high-tech businesses, for next to no post-Brexit advantage.


A. J.

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