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Brexit Limbo for EU Workers Has Denmark Inc. Saying ‘Come Here!’

Updated on
  • Main Danish industry group wants to hire EU workers from U.K.
  • May’s reassurance to EU citizens yet to lead to firm guarantee

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If the U.K. can’t guarantee European Union citizens now working there that their lives will be unaffected by Brexit, then those people should look for jobs in Denmark.

The Confederation of Danish Industry, which represents about 10,000 corporations, says now is the time to try to attract that demographic to the Scandinavian country and help deal with a severe labor shortage.

“We can use a lot of the EU citizens currently working in the U.K.,” Steen Nielsen, chief of labor policy at the Copenhagen-based confederation, said in a phone interview. “It’s pretty unclear what’s going to happen -- the Brits don’t yet know what rules they’ll apply” to EU workers, he said.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has tried to reassure European citizens in Britain that they will still be welcome in the country after it leaves the union by the end of March 2019. But so far talks have stalled, with basic questions such as Britain’s EU budget obligations and citizens’ rights remaining unresolved.

According to Nielsen, Denmark needs to be proactive in its efforts to attract EU workers now caught in the Brexit crosshairs, because many other European countries are grappling with similar labor shortages and will also be making overtures.

“There’s a tussle going on between countries to attract the right workers,” Nielsen said. He says that over the past 12 months, about 40 percent of the confederation’s members have had to abandon their efforts to find the right people to fill vacancies.

“It’s very relevant to look closer at those who don’t know what their future will look like in the U.K.,” he said.

Scandinavian countries such as Denmark are wondering how to find the resources needed to sustain their famed welfare societies. In neighboring Sweden, even a record influx of immigrants has failed to ease a shortage of labor that now threatens to upend the country’s economic growth.

The Danish central bank has long warned of bottlenecks in the labor market. The Economic Council, an independent body which advises the government, says an additional 70,000 new workers from abroad will be needed to maintain an average annual growth rate of 2.1 percent through 2025. “The capacity pressure on the labor market is increasing,” the council said in a report published Oct. 10.

The center-right government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen is responding with proposed tax cuts to create more incentives for people to join the workforce. (And to be sure, Denmark also wants to curtail EU migrant worker access to its welfare services).

Read more here on Danish immigration policy

Nielsen says Denmark urgently needs everything from electricians to industrial technicians and metal workers. Aside from targeting EU citizens whose lives have been made less certain by Brexit, he wants authorities to make it easier for businesses to bring in skilled labor from outside Europe. (Current legislation places a floor on annual pay levels at which businesses can hire foreigners at just over 400,000 kroner, or roughly $63,000.)

In a speech delivered in Manchester earlier this month, May said EU citizens living in Britain don’t need to worry about their future.

“If you are a citizen of the EU who has made their life in this country I know you will feel unsettled and nervous,” she said in a speech now notorious for its litany of mishaps. “But let me be clear that we value the contribution that you make to the life in our country. You are welcome here and I urge the negotiating teams to reach agreement on this quickly because we want you to stay.”

Still, Carl-Johan Dalgaard, one of the Economic Council’s co-chairs, told Bloomberg "it’s obvious that any labor exodus from the U.K. to the euro area - and that’s not at all unlikely - will offer potential opportunities for Danish companies."

May last month in Florence also offered an assurance that Britain will meet its financial obligations to Europe. EU leaders are due to meet for a summit next week and will decide how talks should proceed.

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