Population report is ‘insulting’ to workers
HOSPITALITY and agriculture are not to blame for Jersey’s population boom over the past two decades and should not be the target of ‘ill-informed political policies’ aimed at addressing it, the chairman of Visit Jersey has said.
Kevin Keen also criticised the government’s obsession with gross value added as a measure of desirability for migration and called for politicians, the business community and society as a whole to better appreciate the value that people could bring to a workforce and a community.
Describing it as ‘completely insulting’ to describe people working in industries such as hospitality as low-skilled, he said: ‘Are lawyers any more valuable than teachers? The market says they probably are but we know in society that is probably not the case. We need to treat people as people and recognise that the roles they perform are all important and businesses will not have more people than they need to operate.’
His comments – made during a speech at a Chamber of Commerce lunch event yesterday – follow the recent publication of an interim report from the Migration Policy Development Board which sets out four ‘hypothetical’ new categories for controlling access to housing and work.
The categories include a nine-month licence to ease temporary labour shortages, which the group say would probably be used in ‘low-skilled sectors’ and which would come with ‘highly restricted access to accommodation’ and would stop migrants from bringing their families.
Immigrants considered ‘higher skilled’ under other categories would be permitted to bring partners and children and stay for longer.
But Mr Keen said there was no evidence that there was a need to crack down on immigration specifically in sectors such as hospitality, agriculture and retail.
Using figures from the last census and labour market reports, he told the 220-strong audience at the Pomme d’Or Hotel that between June 2001 and June 2018 there had been a reduction of 300 people working in hospitality. And of the 6,400 jobs in the sector last year he said 1,000 were seasonal.
During the same period he said there had been an increase of 3,500 jobs in education and healthcare (up 78%), 1,300 in financial services, 1,200 in construction and 3,000 – or a 114% rise – in ‘miscellaneous services’, although he could not say what those sectors were.
Mr Keen also pointed out that there had been a large increase – from around 3,000 to 10,000 – in people aged 16 to 64 not working.
‘Maybe it is the boomers retiring early?’ he said. ‘My point is that this population thing is complex and I really don’t think we have had a properly informed debate about population in Jersey.
‘In sectors that seem to get the blame there are actually fewer jobs, but in others there is no mention and there is a lot more people.’
He added: ‘If we get the policy wrong we risk real damage to our Island. Before we solve a problem, we have to understand it and just going for sectors like tourism, agriculture and retail is not a good idea. Of course some staff will come for hospitality and end up in other sectors and I say good luck to those hardworking people who are able to progress their careers.’
Mr Keen said that ‘like it or not’ some immigration was needed and the population would increase, but any migration policies must be based on a ‘more thoughtful’ measure than GVA, which did not take into account diversity of the economy.
Referring to the board’s report, he added: ‘From what I have seen there is no analysis of the problem or how we might tackle it. It just goes deep in low productivity, low skill, we don’t want it – and I fundamentally disagree with that. I have been saying for a long time that we need a proper informed debate so that people can understand what is happening.’
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