Migration and wages
The IPPR report on migration and labour markets (trailed in the FT and the Guardian today) shows that the effect of migration on wages, if it exists at all, has been very small (0.3% for every 1% increase in the proportion of migrants in the labour market – ie from 9% to 10% of the labour force). And, although this may not be clear from the reports, it doesn’t mean migration has actually reduced wages – it means that they have been growing marginally less fast than they otherwise would (wages have – certainly until the recession – been growing consistently in real terms for years).
Since migration leads to growth, and it’s growth that drives wage increases (and exploitation and vulnerability keep wages down), the overall effect of migration is still likely to be positive at a macro-economic level, and of course indispensable if you want care for the elderly, a restaurant trade, a health service and fresh locally-grown vegetables.
Of course these are all economy-wide effects. It’s quite possible for specific cases of wage reductions driven by undercutting, exploitation, substitution of temporary workers for permanent ones and so on. And one way of minimising still further (or indeed reversing) the effect on wage rises would be to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers. So the case for implementing the Temporary Agency Workers Directive is still as strong as ever. And it’s not clear what the impact of migration would have been if we hadn’t had a national minimum wage providing – if enforced – a floor below which wages can’t drop.
And of course migrant workers and indigenous workers still need people to fight for their rights: without trade unions, wages would be lower than they are, and vulnerable workers more open to exploitation – and there’s clearly a lot still to be done.