Today (Aug 12trh as I write) Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant is planning to attack Tesco and Next for being cheapskates, and hiring foreign workers at lower-than-UK salaries (though both companies have robustly challenged his claims). He’s also going to call for “more regulation” — something which British industry needs (as they say) like a hole in the head. This amounts to a re-run of the old “British jobs for British workers” argument — something that Labour loves to bring up when under pressure over employment or (as in this case) worried about UKIP’s rather popular position on immigration.
Chris Bryant deserves a prize for bare-faced cheek. It was a Labour government which allowed — some would say engineered — a massive rise in immigration in recent years. His Party supports the EU with its free movement rules. It supports the right of 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians to start coming freely to the UK in 2014 — just four months away. Yet instead of apologising, or blaming the politicians responsible, Bryant chooses to blame Tesco and Next for doing what they’re supposed to do — controlling costs and delivering value to consumers.
So often we see aspects of the EU which are supposed to represent a level playing field — but in fact represent anything but.
Take “free movement of people”. As an interviewer on BBC Radio Wales asked this morning, “Isn’t it true that an unemployed British worker enjoys the right to go and seek work in Poland?”. Yes it is. But it’s also very unlikely to happen. Average salaries in Poland are lower. And welfare payments are much lower. Jobs are no easier to come by. Any rational British job-seeker will do better at home.
Language also represents a massive bias in the EU jobs market. It’s doubtful whether our British unemployed worker speaks Polish, or Greek, or Lithuanian, or Slovenian. He certainly won’t speak all 20+ languages in the EU. But English is overwhelmingly the second language of Europe. That’s good in many ways. But it means that the unemployed worker on the continent is hugely more likely to come to the UK than anywhere else. He’ll come here because he can speak English. But he won’t go to Riga, because he doesn’t speak Latvian.
It gets worse. The EU has an “employment portal” (that’s a web-site to you and me), partly funded by you and me as tax-payers, on which member-states can advertise job vacancies. So far, so good. So far, a level playing field. Except that of a million plus jobs offered, more than half, 840,000, are in the UK. How even-handed is that? As usual, we Brits play by the rules, while other member-states consider their self-interest. And the same site offers financial help with travel expenses to the UK and advice on claiming welfare benefits. What is presented as a fair and balanced aid to employment is in fact a device to hoover-up unemployed continentals and deliver them to Britain. Thanks a bundle.
The simple truth is that we won’t get the right balance between British jobs and foreign workers until we can control our own borders. And we won’t control our own borders as long as we’re in the EU.