From the TUC

Queen’s Speech 2015: Immigration Bill will fuel undercutting & hostility

27 May 2015, by in International

Today measures for a new Immigration Bill were announced in the Queen’s Speech.  The Bill sets out a fundamentally contradictory position, first aired by David Cameron in a speech last week, that you can tackle exploitation of workers by taking their rights away.

Helping bad bosses

The Bill will bring in measures to close a legal loophole to allow wages paid to undocumented migrants to be seized as proceeds of crime.

Further criminalising undocumented migrants, simply makes it harder for bad bosses to be found out. As we have said before, undocumented migrants are unlikely to report an exploitative employer to the authorities when they know they are likely to face a criminal charge for being found out.  This means bad employers will continue to be able to use undocumented migrants ascheap labour, hoping they are too scared to speak out against long hours, low pay or abuse.

You cannot tackle exploitation by reducing workers rights – they must be extended so all workers are treated equally. This is the reason why Cameron’s plans to reduce the rights of workers or EU migrants under his plans for renegotiating Britain’s membership of the EU will not improve the jobs or pay of  those ‘blue collar’ constituents he has set out to win over.

False solutions on services

The new Immigration Bill also proposes to build on the measures in the Immigration Act to extend document checks by landlords and banks to stop undocumented migrants from renting housing or opening a bank account.

TUC Congress adopted a policy opposing the Immigration Act last year, partly due to the fact it will turn staff in banks, hospitals and landlords into border guards and  encourage everyday discrimination in the housing, banking and health against anyone who doesn’t ‘look’ British. This will make it harder for migrants and BME groups to have access to essential services and will drive more vulnerable people into homelessness and sickness. 

Last week, Cameron said in his speech that:

‘if you have uncontrolled immigration, you have uncontrolled pressure on public services’

Pressure on public services, however, has been caused by the billions of pounds of cuts the last government unleashed – and the present government is set to deepen –  and a chronic lack of investment in social housing. 

As non-EU migrants are not eligible for social housing at all, while far fewer EU migrants live in council housing than UK citizens. Scapegoating migrants is cheaper than investing in services but when the Immigration Bill fails to make more hospital beds available or increase the supply of public housing, the smokescreen of migration will start to wear thin.  

Failing to tackle exploitation

The Immigration Bill proposes the creation of a new enforcement agency that ‘cracks down on the worst cases of exploitation’.  Certainly we know employers exploit migrant workers, paying under the minimum wage and housing them in inhuman conditions, in order to get cheap labour in sectors such as agriculture, construction and meat processing

Stopping this exploitation requires government to work with unions – as the only organisation that represents workers and negotiate with employers to end exploitation – as well as employers, migrants’ rights groups and enforcement agencies that already exist such as HMRC which enforces payment of the minimum wage and the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA). 

However, the last Cameron government reduced the scope and powers of the GLA in 2013 – moves condemned by the TUC . In order to tackle exploitation the government must expand the GLA to cover other sectors where vulnerable employment is common such as cleaning and hospitality.

Good employers want regulation of these sectors by government as it decreases the risk to their business. 

Exploitation of migrants is not only bad for business but bad for productivity too – as Mark Carney stated this month, Britain can’t become more productive economy until wages go up and employers invest in decent jobs.

Skills

The proposals for the Bill also state:

A consultation will be carried out on funding apprenticeship schemes for British and EU workers by implementing a new visa levy on businesses that use foreign labour.’

Unions believe migration should not be used as a substitute for long term investment in training of the domestic workforce. Any consultation into an apprenticeship scheme for British and EU workers should involve trade unions as unions have played a key role in assessing the skills needs of the workforce through Union Learning Reps and supporting Apprenticeships.

Today’s Immigration Bill offers little hope for workers no matter where they come from.  It fails to stop some workers being hired on worse contracts than others or exploited due to their immigration status and offers little in the way of increased enforcement of rights.  In this way it fails to address the concerns a significant number of voters expressed earlier this month about the growth of precarious work and migration.