Stop playing a numbers game with net migration
Yesterday the Office for National Statistics reported that net migration has risen to 298,000 meaning the government has missed its target of reducing net migration to ‘the tens of thousands’.
This is not surprising news – but that’s part of the problem.
Voters already feel politicians can’t be trusted on migration policy, this is likely to alienate them further while providing an unnecessary distraction from tackling real problems many are facing with low wages, precarious jobs and cuts to services.
The connection between concerns over jobs, wages and migration was illustrated in an interview with a Thurrock resident called Thomas Street yesterday, he commented:
“We have lived round here [Thurrock] all our lives. It used to be a bustling little town but now all the shops have gone, there are no good jobs and you walk down the street and all you hear is foreign voices…”
Like many parts of the UK, Thurrock is suffering from low wages – in fact the TUC’s new interactive map shows that 23.9% of people there are paid below the living wage. Closed shops are just one sign that local people don’t have money to spend in the area. Local services in Thurrock, meanwhile, face £25 million in cuts as part of the government’s austerity drive.
These last two weeks the TUC has been calling for action on low pay and the rising cost of living in our Fairpay Fortnight campaign.
Thomas Street also mentions there are no good jobs in the area – this isn’t just a problem in Thurrock, there are now 1.8 million zero hours jobs in the UK, two in five paying less than £111 a week and not qualifying workers for sick pay.
But yesterday William Hague told us that the increase in migration to the UK is a ‘problem of success’ due to the economic growth. When jobs are increasingly insecure, whose success is he talking about?
Perhaps it is the employers who take advantage of the fact that Britain has some of the lowest levels of employment protection in Europe. This means they can hire people cheaply and fire them easily. Migrants are likely to be found in these jobs as they are more vulnerable and desperate to work, coming from more economically troubled parts of the EU like Bulgaria, Spain or Portugal.
But even if migration stopped tomorrow undercutting would still take place – indeed we are already seeing employers taking on local workers on zero-hours or agency contracts to undercut other local workers on stable contracts.
This race to the bottom on conditions and pay that has to be stopped, as TUC General Secretary Frances O’ Grady said yesterday:
“The government needs to stop playing a numbers game with migration figures. It’s time to get real about what politicians can actually do about migration…We need to get tougher with employers who seek to exploit migrants working in the UK, and with employers who use migrants to undermine existing workers’ terms and conditions.”
In fact, suggesting that problems in society and the workplace can be solved by pulling up the drawbridge just plays into the hands of those who want to scapegoat migrants and divide the workforce. This only makes it easier for employers to exploit them.
That’s why it’s important for local and migrant workers to join a union and stand together to demand equal treatment from employers and decent pay, as well as properly enforced employment protection. Unions also help provide language training in the workplace which is key for integration along with proper funding into local services – which IPPR are also calling for.
Now the net migration target has been plainly discredited, employers and government should work with unions to tackle the cause of the problems communities like those in Thurrock are facing.