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What effect will Brexit have on recruitment and staffing in the media sector?

Written by Daniel Kirby on 5th September 2016

brexit media recruitment

On June 23rd Britain voted to leave the EU, a decision which forged a deep divide between two halves of the country and which has left us mired in political uncertainty. In recruitment terms the effect of Brexit is hard to gauge, given that different industries are likely to face very different challenges over the coming years, but we have attempted to summarise the current fallout from the decision and the predictions for the future.

Within hours of the result being announced, the job site Indeed reported a major increase in searches for jobs outside of the UK, and although these searches have since tailed off, this surely demonstrates a level of unease relating to the uncertain future of the country.

Elsewhere however, there has been generally positive recruitment news following the result, with the recruitment firm Reed explaining that in the three weeks following the vote they saw an 8 percent increase in jobs added to its website compared to the same period last year. CV-Library also announced that their Q2 2016 data showed an 11% increase in job vacancies and a 13.2% increase in candidate applications compared to Q2 2015. Clearly then, UK employers are remaining optimistic despite the Brexit uncertainty, and these figures should go some way towards allaying fears that the result will cause a recruitment slowdown.

Nevertheless there are certainly changes on the way. It seems inevitable that immigration laws are going to be affected given that this was a major issue in the referendum with many people looking for a greater measure of control. What seems likely at this point is that those EU workers who are already residing in the UK will be permitted to remain so, however Theresa May has refused to make any concrete promises on this since taking office. She has announced that she would like to secure permanent residency rights of EU nationals living in the UK, but that this would be dependent on equivalent rights being given to British expatriates living in EU member states. Given that there are currently 3.3 million EU nationals living in the UK and 1.2 million Brits living in EU member states, the issue here is a major one which May’s party will be hoping to resolve as early as possible.

One possibility following the referendum, albeit unlikely, is that the UK could negotiate to maintain freedom of movement, either with the EU or with particular EU countries. In such a case EU nationals from those countries with which an agreement is made would naturally be able to work in the UK without a visa, whilst those workers from all other member states would most likely be required to apply for visas under UK immigration rules.

One of our close associates, the law firm Lewis Silkin LLP have covered this topic in some depth, and have explained that it is unlikely that low-skilled workers will be eligible for UK work visas, and if this is indeed the case, it is entirely possible that we will encounter a shortage of low-skilled workers after the separation of the UK from the EU is completed. Such an event would result in higher costs for affected employers, who would have to offer greater wages to secure their required workforce.

Despite the significance of some of Brexit’s potential consequences, the response from the media industry to the referendum result has been surprisingly upbeat, with many companies expressing their desire to continue with ‘business as usual’, and a general consensus within London is that the capital will remain a highly desirable destination for businesses, even after Britain completes its separation from the EU.

Those in the events industry are particularly confident in this regard. Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events at London & Partners suggests that ‘London remains one of the best cities in which to build a global business and to hold an international event’, and goes on to state her belief that ‘there will be ample time to develop and effect plans to ensure continuity of business over the coming years.’

Elsewhere Kevin Jackson, chair of the International Live Events Association (ILEA) said that although the uncertainty of the next two years is a concern,  ‘the event industry is a robust industry and a relationship-based industry’ with ‘strong relationships across Europe and around the world.’

In terms of corporate communications, a major concern is of course that companies will look to halt their big PR campaigns due to the current state of uncertainty. However according to Pete Markey, brand communications and marketing director at Aviva, Brexit may in fact ‘provide a challenge and an opportunity for brands and marketers’ and that with ‘consumer trust declining, the need for strong and confident brands is evident more than ever.’ He goes on to suggest that ‘brands will be looking to focus more on the emotional warmth of storytelling and heritage behind their brands to help build and strengthen confidence and trust – those brands that panic and waver will revert to heavy discounting and promotions which could potentially damage brand value.’

Studies have shown that advertisers who increase their advertising spend during a recession are often more profitable in the long term, and so there may be a number of companies looking to take the opportunity to strengthen their brand during the nation’s Brexit unease.

Overall then the media industry outlook appears positive post-Brexit, and we as a company have not noticed any slowdown in recruitment since the result. A calm approach has been adopted by the majority of companies and as a result the industry appears stable at this moment in time.

Helpfully Lewis Silkin have also released some practical suggestions as to what media companies can do in legal terms in order to navigate Brexit successfully.

Firstly they suggest reviewing which of your workforce are EU migrants, if any, and how many UK nationals are stationed elsewhere in the EU, in order to assist them in applications for citizenship, permanent residency, or (if required) an EU workers’ permit.

They also propose that companies could also consider changing their work council agreements to be based in Ireland under Irish law, and given the currency fluctuations, assess arrangements of employees posted abroad and paid in other currencies. As the current position of EU statutory leave may change or even ultimately be reversed, it makes sense to review considerations concerning making offers on holiday pay beyond basic salary.

Finally they recommend carrying on with existing measures to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation, as the UK will not have exited by May 2018 when this comes into effect, and domestic law is also unlikely to change.