Loose language can stoke up the fears on migration
The Migration Advisory Committee has published another report on reforms to the Points-Based System of migration, and the TUC’s response welcomes some of the steps proposed (we’ll issue a more detailed, considered response in due course) which could tighten up the protections against abuses of the migration system. As always, our concern is to prevent exploitation and undercutting, protecting both migrant and the existing workforce. But one thought nags at me. Throughout the MAC press release, there are references to measures which will protect jobs for “British” workers. That makes me nervous. I think it’s dangerous, inappropriate and misguided.
Of course, this is inherently controversial and dangerous territory. The phrase “British jobs for British workers” has caused enormous problems in all sorts of ways.
But in particular, it has led many to complain that what is offered is not what is delivered. And this is the case in what the MAC has proposed. Undoubtedly, many of the measures make it less likely that workers currently outside the EU will not be able to enter the UK and take up a job. But the people who have correspondingly more job opportunities are only British in the sense that they are already eligible to apply for jobs in this country. None of the measures that the MAC have proposed will reduce the ability of, say, Polish workers to apply for or get jobs in the UK, nor workers from outside the EU who are nevertheless entitled to enter the UK and look for work – people here under Tier 1, for example. So the use of the term “British workers” to describe those who will benefit is wrong, or at least imprecise/misleading.
But it’s worse than that, of course. The MAC’s use of the term “British workers” is a direct appeal to people who DO want jobs in this country restricted to British people – British unions are emphatically NOT part of that category – and it is a misleading claim made to a group of people who are not going to be best pleased when they discover that they are being misled. So on top of the unjustified grievances that such people already have about migration, we can add the justifiable grievance of feeling lied to. It doesn’t seem good politics to me to provide such people with justification – they need instead to be provided with (a) the truth and (b) measures such as those advocated by trade unions that will actually address the problems they really do face.