Airport arrivals sign. Photo: George Clerk
Even with Brexit deal unknown, the government can act now to manage migration better
While there is still considerable uncertainty about whether or how free movement will feature in any Brexit negotiation, there are many actions the government could take right now which would tackle the negative impact poorly implemented migration policies, particularly when combined with poor regulation in the labour market and cuts to essential services, have had on communities. We’ve highlighted these today in our new report Managing migration better for Britain.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU has thrown into stark focus the insecurity many communities are feeling. Throughout the referendum campaign trade unions heard workers saying they were planning to vote Leave due to concerns that uncontrolled free movement meant there were not enough decent jobs, affordable housing or services in their area.
These insecurities are not new. For decades many of the places that voted Leave have seen low skill, low paid employment replace decently paid jobs in industries such as manufacturing and energy. Lack of workers’ rights means employers have been able to employ workers on precarious contracts with no secure hours, where they may not be eligible for holiday or sick pay. Some groups of workers’ circumstances mean they are more likely to be employed in these jobs, such as young people lacking experience, parents whose caring commitments limit the number of hours they can work and migrant workers who need to find work quickly to secure an income.
For a number of reasons, linked with the influence of the media and political debate, it is migrant workers that have become symbolic to many people of these insecure conditions at work. In TUC polling conducted in 2014, we found that one of the highest concerns around immigration was linked with driving down wages and worsening working conditions.
TUC polling conducted immediately after the EU referendum revealed that controlling immigration was one of the top concerns (although by far not the only concern) of Leave voters. However, just over half of those who voted to Leave agreed that immigration could be good for Britain if it was well managed.
The TUC report puts forward a number of practical proposals to the government which would provide strong rules that would offer voters assurances that there was better management of the negative impacts that abusive practices around migration have caused.
The TUC is calling for the government to:
- Significantly increase funding for bodies which enforce workers’ rights like HMRC which enforces the minimum wage
- Tackle insecure forms of work such as zero hours contracts
- Encourage employers to negotiate collective agreements with unions to create decent conditions for all workers
- Establish modern wages councils to make such collective agreements at sectoral level
- Increase investment in public services in areas where migration has been highest
- Build more homes for families and crack down on rogue landlords
- Boost funding for skills training, including basic skills like literacy and numeracy (the OECD estimates 48% of 16-34 year olds in England have under GCSE levels) and English language skills for migrants
- Support communities to come together
- Protect the rights of EU citizens in Britain
- Take action to tackle racism and xenophobia
Trade unions are ready to play our part to work with employers and government to ensure all workers, no matter where they are from, receive decent treatment at work and are treated with respect in both in the workplace and in the community. Trade unions must also be involved in the development of industrial policies in the aftermath of the EU referendum vote – as this TUC report outlines – so that industry that provides decently paid, secure employment is developed in areas hurting from years of poor quality jobs like those that have been condemned so publically by MPs in SportsDirect.