Demand grows for Ukrainian workers in NI but be careful warns Belfast solicitor

Local businesses must conduct due diligence and adhere to fair and just employment practices

By Claire Cartmill
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 12:00 pm

A leading Belfast solicitor has said that a range of Ulster businesses are seeking legal support and guidance on employing Ukrainian nationals in a bid to aid the humanitarian crisis and avail of the broad skillset of refugees.

However, Seamus McGranaghan, director of employment law at O’Reilly Stewart, has warned local businesses that while the opportunity represents a win-win, companies must be careful to conduct due diligence and adhere to fair and just employment practices.

New concessions for Ukrainian refugees’ means that in addition to visa applications and the visa scheme for family members, refugees have been granted leave to live and work in the UK for up to three years.

Seamus McGranaghan, director of employment law at O’Reilly Stewart

This ‘local sponsorship scheme’ presents a real opportunity for businesses in Northern Ireland to expand and strengthen their workforce with skilled refugee workers, at time when job vacancies across a range of sectors remain high.

According to Mr McGranaghan particular sectors that are seeking to benefit include IT, hospitality and retail with many foreign nationals having left Northern Ireland in the wake of the Brexit arrangements widening the gap in the job market.

“The local economy is hungry for skilled workers, in areas such as IT and hospitality in particular,” said Mr McGranaghan.

Hospitality is struggling to provide a steady flow of skilled labour into an industry that employed 34,000 people pre covid and the IT sector continues to grow, providing 15% of all employment vacancies with demand considerably outstripping supply.

“So, with Ukraine’s proficient skill levels in both sectors, many businesses rightly see this as an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the global humanitarian aid campaign, while also addressing their pressing skillset needs.

”However, while welcoming and supporting the opportunities this presents to local companies we are working closely with them to ensure that they adopt the appropriate legal procedures to ensure that a fair and equitable employment process is followed and the process is not discriminatory.

”Businesses cannot be seen to be favouring applicants from Ukraine at the expense of other candidates and they must adhere to due process.

“There are a number of initiatives that will help business navigate this, including a process known as ‘positive action’ which is allowed to help increase workplace diversity, but the details of this must be diligently followed.”

Mr McGranaghan added:”This situation is unusual, in the past refugees looking for work have mainly been men happy to work long hours but the majority of Ukrainian refugees looking for employment will be women so potential employers will have to be flexible around childcare provisions.”

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