Migrant worker experiences overlooked by government body consultation

Unite has described a consultation launched by the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) as so focussed on the needs of employers and industrial sectors that it fails to reflect the experiences of migrant workers and communities.

And it has warned that people’s lives must not be used as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiation process.

MAC’s call for evidence is intended to enable the organisation to advise the government on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the European Union and how Britain’s immigration system should be “aligned with a modern industrial strategy”.

But while it is welcoming views from a wide range of interested parties, including businesses, employers and trade unions, the questions concentrate on migration trends, recruitment practices, training and skills, and the costs and benefits to the UK economy, labour market and industry.

Unite is concerned that unless MAC also gathers evidence of the experiences of migrant workers from the European Economic Area (EEA) in the UK – the area that provides for the free movement of people within the European single market – such as exploitation, insecure work and low pay, along with those of the communities they live and work in, the consultation will fail to provide much needed evidence on the social cohesion issues that helped to create the climate for Brexit.

The call for evidence also fails to ask about different types of immigration systems or consider the potential benefits and disadvantages of them for the workforce, as opposed to just employers and industries.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said: “It is astonishing that this consultation focuses entirely on the needs of employers and industrial sectors, without any reflection on the wider issues affecting migrant workers, or UK employees.

“Concerns about the impact of the free movement of labour in Europe undoubtedly played a large part in the Brexit referendum result, particularly in working-class communities. Unite has repeatedly called for safeguards to ensure that greedy bosses cannot cut costs by slashing workers’ wages and exploiting migrant workers.

“Safeguards – for communities, workers and the industries needing labour – in the shape of employers recruiting from abroad having to have a proper union collective bargaining agreement, will stop them pitting worker against worker.

“Unite is also demanding that EU workers have the right to remain in the UK after Brexit, and that the government stops using them as bargaining chips in the negotiation process.

“These are crucial issues for Unite members, and ones that the MAC needs to explore, rather than focussing only on the needs of employers. Of course it is important that the MAC considers the impact of immigration systems in relation to industrial strategy, but it also needs to take a much broader approach to the whole issue of immigration.

“Failing to do so risks the implementation of an unfair, inefficient and damaging immigration system that will simply exacerbate the race to the bottom culture of the UK’s economy.

“Unite members can be assured that our response to MAC will reflects all these issues.”

The MAC call for evidence can be read here.