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Eastern European immigration ‘has hit low-paid Britons’

A recent article in The Observer gives the lie to the rhetoric of both the liberal left and neo-liberal right – that economic immigration is a purely benign phenomenon that benefits all. As the IWCA has pointed out (see ‘Kicking away the ladder at home and abroad: immigration, globalisation and neo-liberalism’ and ‘The race to the bottom’), often to howls of protest and derision, one of the causes of anti-immigrant sentiment in working class communities is that these communities are often losing out economically as a result of immigration – even if this is expressed in other, reactionary, ways.

If immigration is of net economic benefit to the UK then this benefit is not evenly distributed. If it is having a negative impact on the low paid then some groups, presumably certain types of employers, must be gaining disproportionately. Once again issues that are perceived as racial can be traced to class-based ones.

A second article, from the Financial Times (‘Row over foreign workers erupts’) highlights another dispute over migrant workers from Europe undercutting the wages of construction workers in the energy sector. Unions have said that Italian workers involved in building a gas-fired power station in Nottinghamshire are being underpaid by more than £1,000 a month, undermining national agreements. The dispute echoes the Lindsey refinery protests last year – another indication that unrest due to government-sanctioned attempts by employers to depress wages by bringing in foreign labour is likely to grow.

So far these issues have been tackled in a largely progressive way but there is no guarantee this will continue, especially if the main unions continue to blindly support New Labour.


Eastern European immigration ‘has hit low-paid Britons’

Influx of 1.5m eastern Europeans means UK’s lowest-paid workers are earning less now, report says

Jamie Doward, Home Affairs Editor, The Observer

Sunday January 17 2010

An ‘unprecedented’ influx of some 1.5 million eastern European workers into the UK over the past six years is likely to have had a negative impact on the wages of the lowest-paid British workers, according to a major report ordered by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

While the report, written by the Migration Policy Institute, claims the contribution of the new migrants to the UK’s economy is ‘probably small but positive’, it concludes that there is evidence that ‘the recent migration may have reduced wages slightly at the bottom end of the labour market, especially for certain groups of vulnerable workers’. It also claims there is a risk that the recent influx ‘could contribute to a ‘low-skill equilibrium’ in some economically depressed local areas’.

The report estimates that about half of the 1.5 million eastern European workers who have come to the UK since it opened its borders to an expanded EU in 2004 have returned home, while most of the remainder have found themselves in unskilled occupations. The report claims that eastern European workers now constitute about half of all labour immigration to the UK.

While the number of eastern European workers entering the UK has been curtailed by the recession, experts believe it is likely this new form of economic immigration will have an enduring impact on the UK’s jobs market.

About 95% of male eastern European migrants and 80% of females find work upon entering the UK and the report found evidence that during the recession their unemployment rates have remained significantly below that of British-born workers, often because they were paid considerably less and were seen as good employees willing to work hard. But this has led to concerns that they are allowing themselves to be exploited ? with consequences for the job prospects and working conditions of UK-born workers as well.

‘This report highlights the need to provide help for the most vulnerable, with evidence that many eastern European workers may be in precarious employment circumstances and suffering exploitation in some industries,’ said Andrea Murray, acting group director of strategy at the EHRC.

The report also acknowledges the use of eastern European labour to fill unskilled jobs may result in ‘a vicious circle in which employers fail to invest in increasing the skills in their workforce’. It suggests if the trend continues it ‘runs the risk of perpetuating the existence of substantial numbers of temporary jobs with unsociable hours that are increasingly only attractive to migrant workers’.

The report, which draws on independent research, official statistics, national insurance figures and labour force surveys, provides one of the most authoritative assessments of eastern European migration patterns in and out of the UK and is likely to be studied closely by politicians as the debate about immigration heats up in the weeks leading up to the general election.

Row over foreign workers erupts

By Brian Groom, the Financial Times

Published: January 19 2010

A row over foreign labour at engineering construction sites broke out again yesterday when union leaders said Italian workers involved in building a gas-fired power station in Nottinghamshire had been underpaid by more than £1,000 a month.

Repayments were agreed after independent auditors found 24 staff employed by a subcontractor at Staythorpe, near Newark, had been paid below agreed national rates.

Alstom, which is building the station for RWE, said as soon as the auditor notified it of the breach it told Somi, the subcontractor, to make good the underpayments.
Unite and the GMB said the revelations were proof that some employers were undermining the national agreement.

A dispute over jobs at construction sites sparked unofficial strikes last year and was resolved only after months of talks that headed off a threat of official action.

8 Responses to “Eastern European immigration ‘has hit low-paid Britons’”

  1. napier Says:

    Does the IWCA have an answer to this one? My answer is withdraw from the EU and take back our border controls so that Poles, Italians, etc. have to apply for work permits if they want a job in Britain, and if the Home Office says no then they take no as the answer.

    Sadly, the IWCA sees anti-EU attitudes as the domain of the right and the little Englanders, whereas in reality, the British working class has little to gain from EU membership and the wealthy corporate and financial elite has plenty to gain. Even the toffs and snobs of UKIP have better solutions to this problem of Johnny foreigner taking our jobs than the IWCA does.

  2. Martin Says:

    “the IWCA sees anti-EU attitudes as the domain of the right and the little Englanders”

    Can you produce any evidence whatsoever to back this up?

  3. napier Says:

    Conversation with IWCA members.

    One day I tried to persuade them to get the IWCA onto the anti-EU bandwagon but it was met with hostility including a response with the words ‘the right’ and ‘little Englanders’ in it. If the IWCA had been banging the anti-EU drum to a similar tune of that from No2EU then it might have won some serious support.

  4. Martin Says:

    Which IWCA members? Where?

  5. BobFromBrockley Says:

    I am not an IWCA member, but I also see the anti-EU bandwagon as right-wing and little Englandish. There’s nothing wrong with patriotism, but nor is there anything special about the “sovereignty” of Britain, about our dusty Parliament, bloated corrupt UK politicians, an in-bred monarchy and the Church of England. Why on earth would anyone prefer these to their equivalents in Brussels?

    The fears ordinary people have of competition from lower paid migrant workers needs to be taken seriously and addressed, and needs to be addressed by working alongside them, getting them into the same unions, and not by kicking them out. Low pay is created by greedy bosses and not by poor migrant workers.

  6. Paul B Says:

    I agree that much of the opposition to the EU is as Bob describes but the fact is that the EU is a rotten and corrupt capitalist construct. Not only is it undemocratic but its agenda is the promotion of the “free movement of capital, goods, services and labour” within the EU. I fail to see how anyone who calls themselves progressive could suppport it.

  7. napier Says:

    The EU overwhelmingly benefits big business and the wealthy.

  8. Martin Says:

    Again: which IWCA members? Where?

    On BobFromBrockley’s point, PaulB pretty much sums up my feelings. We’re not attacking the EU out of blind patriotism for dear old Blighty, we’re attacking it’s pro-capital, anti-working class characteristics. Bob is quite right to say that “Low pay is created by greedy bosses and not by poor migrant workers”, and the EU is one of the vehicles the bosses use to keep wages down through the creation of a reserve army of labour.

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