27 February 2015
Immigration has hit the headlines this week with the news that the government has completely failed to reach its target of reducing net annual immigration to 100,000, “no ifs, no buts” – a target that should never have been set in the first place.
In recent years vote-coveting politicians and a sensationalist media have forced immigration up on the list of the nations concerns. The immigration ‘debate’ is warped with myths, lies and skewed data interpretation. A particularly noxious myth is that migrants “take British jobs” and are a drain on the state.
Viviane Reding, the former vice-president of the European commission, said last January; “The facts and figures, and we all know this, show it is simply not true and I do believe also that the British industry has made it very clear, putting the figures on the table and showing that the GDP of Britain rose by 3-4% because of the input of these working Europeans who come to Great Britain.
“I am mostly frustrated about the political leaders because what is leadership if you just try with populistic movements and populistic speech to gain votes?”
Its true that immigration is a problem – but only because migrants workers are often left vulnerable and exploited by their employers – often working in execrable conditions for pitiful pay, and made to undercut the existing workforce to the benefit only of the employer and their capital.
As Sonia McKay points out in Labour Migration in Hard Times, available here; “For migrants the economic crisis has meant falling wages, greater difficulty in finding jobs and an increase in hostility to their being here”.
Commenting on the news Frances O’Grady said; “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. Politicians should stop pretending to the electorate and start doing things that will make a difference.
“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.
“Unions can help by blowing the whistle on exploitation and undercutting, making sure migrants know their rights, and bargaining for skills, decent pay and opportunities for young workers. Whether they’re migrants or not, everyone deserves to be treated decently at work and to receive a fair wage.”
The IER publication Labour migration in hard times: Reforming labour market regulation? edited by Bernard Ryan, argues that the number of migrant workers is not an issue – they provide valuable skills to the economy while also increasing demand for goods and services. It is the lack of effective and enforced labour regulations that needs to be tackled.