Labour leader Ed Miliband has promised to deter firms from exclusively employing workers from overseas, admitting his party “got it wrong” on immigration when in government.
He said Gordon Brown and Tony Blair should not have allowed uncontrolled immigration from new EU states in 2004.
He also pledged to ban recruitment agencies which use only foreign workers at the expense of “local talent”.
But the Conservatives said Labour had “no credibility” on immigration.
In 2004, the government allowed free migration to the UK for workers from EU accession states including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
But its estimates that only about 13,000 people a year would come to the country were soon proved wrong, with a peak net migration figure, from the EU and elsewhere, of 252,000 in 2010.
Some countries imposed transitional controls to slow the speed of movement.
In a speech to the IPPR think-tank, Mr Miliband said: “It was a mistake not to impose transitional controls on accession from Eastern European countries. We severely underestimated the number of people who would come here. We were dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price.
“By focusing exclusively on immigration’s impact on growth, we lost sight of who was benefiting from that growth – whose living standards were being squeezed. We became disconnected from the concerns of working people.”
He said Labour had told people concerned about the biggest peacetime migration to the UK to “like it or lump it” and that the public had been “ahead of us” on the issue.
Many in the party blamed the effects on immigration, including the lowering of wages and pressures on social services, for the scale of Labour’s defeat in the 2010 general election.
Acknowledging that this was a factor, Mr Miliband said some employers had a “nasty, brutish and short-term” attitude to taking on staff, leading to greater exploitation of overseas and British workers.
He added that cutting numbers of immigrants was part of the solution but “not enough”. He also accused the government of being unrealistic in saying it will limit net migration to “tens of thousands”, as the vast majority of those coming to the UK were from EU countries.
Instead he promised measures including:
- Forcing medium and large employers to declare if more than a quarter of their workforce is foreign, so that gaps in training British workers can be addressed, allowing them better to compete
- Banning employment agencies from taking on only overseas workers
- Extending the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to all sectors where workers are being exploited
- Setting up an early-warning system, run by the Migration Advisory Council, to highlight areas where the workforce is “dominated by low-wage labour from other countries”
- Identifying where British jobseekers need better training
- Tougher legislation on the minimum wage, with a doubling of the fine from £5,000 to £10,000 for those who break the law
He said he would not make “promises that can not be kept” on cutting immigration from within the EU, which is beyond the control of British governments.
But he would seek ways to “level” the playing field for British workers in the jobs market.
And he vowed that a future Labour government would introduce “maximum transitional controls” to limit migration if the EU expanded to include more countries.
Referring to the phrase used by Mr Brown as prime minister, Mr Miliband said: “We are not calling for ‘British jobs for British workers’ because you can’t do that and we shouldn’t promise it.”
The Labour leader said there was “nothing wrong with anyone employing Polish builders, Swedish childminders or French chefs”.
But he added: “The problem we need to address is in those areas and sectors where local talent is locked out of opportunity.”
For the Conservatives, immigration minister Damian Green said: “Until Ed Miliband supports the government’s measures to cut and control immigration, Labour will have no credibility at all.
“Under his leadership, Labour have opposed our aim to get annual net migration down to the tens of thousands, and they have opposed the cap on economic migration, our changes to student visas and our reforms to family visas.
“They refuse to admit that immigration is too high, and they refuse to say immigration needs to come down.”
Shailesh Vara, the Conservative MP for North West Cambridgeshire, called for an apology from Mr Miliband.
He said: “Ed Miliband could actually start apologising to people such as myself and other Conservatives who in the past have tried to talk about immigration in a measured and sensitive way, but whenever we’ve tried to do that we’ve been accused of racism by the Labour Party.”
Sir Andrew Green, head of the Migration Watch think tank, told the BBC that Labour’s “real concern is that they’ve lost an awful lot of their own supporters, who of course are the people who, mainly, suffer the consequences of immigration on this scale, in terms of social housing and so on and so forth”.
But he added: “I think the other thing that was wrong with this discussion is that there’s been a lot of focus on EU migration.
“The reality is this – in the Labour years there was net foreign immigration of three and a half million. Only one in five of those was actually from the European Union.”
The question is can UK manage mass immigration and why is it important to the economy the answers lays with the three main political parties to answer.
If you ask any joe block this question they may just confirm that they(immigrants) are taking over the country and jobs. I say to them don’t be hoodwinked by the media and political parties pandering to them.
In some sense I do agree that we need proper training from our home grown people who are on Job Seekers who are doing their best to gain employment. Which leads to say that our communities need a overhaul culture change.
Let’s not forget that communities remains strong when we are united. Some will say that some unemployed are lazy and they don’t want to work and they are forced to get a job. There maybe some truths in it but those are very small minorities.
I’m sure that most will agreed that a multicultural society is the best model compared to the 50s or earlier. What Ed Miliband was speaking of about was both controlled and uncontrolled migration which some will disagree but read the context of the speech and we all can learn something new. But there are still die-hards who cannot accept change which is a shame.
Yes any political party who runs a country can get wrong. However it takes courage to say so. Both previous and present govts had got it wrong. Many people fears by having a debate about our country allowing immigration to be discuss will be branded a racist.
I’m proud of who I am. A son of a immigrant whose parents worked hard to food on the table, educate us and landing the job that we were trained to do(in some case). I’m not for one moment implying that we should allow our public servants not to be held to account. We elected our Member of Parliament(MPs) to be accountable to us.
I concur that there are a few bad apples who abuse the system to come into this country to exploits it for their own benefits. Those are the culprits that we should sent back their country of origin. I could argue that their are some small foreign or UK companies who milk the system.
I can go as far to say that I have come across a few small companies who continues to lay conditions down to the Job Centre Plus that they want job seekers for six months to see if they are willing to do under the conditions that the Job Centre Plus continues to pay them( Job Seekers) to train to gain. The horror of this is that small, and medium businesses to use this as a loophole with no intentions of paying the job seekers who are looking for employment this the case of some small recruiting companies for legal reasons I cannot name and shame them in public.
This what both Labour and coalition should be focusing on and working to put a end of bad practices like this but. To me it’s it’s all talk and no action for the moment.
It’s about time action is taken against both small and medium recruiting agencies that abuse our country by not paying their taxes and national insurance for the staff and when staff request to have their payslips they are being told all sorts of stories like “Oh there is a slight problem such and such company has not sent their payment on time etc”
After all the excuses they still receive late payment they still have not received their payslips this can go on for weeks and months.
Yet the whistle blowing policies has too much loopholes when workers report their concerns they are the ones who end up with lose jobs because the company directors takes it personal against their employees who dares to stand up to the bully boys and gals.
Ed Miliband is right when he cannot keep promises on policies lets be frank and honest not even the conservatives could make a promise like that let alone their partner in crime the Fibdems. Who can remember the Fibdems broken promises can someone remind them. Er mnm could it be tuition fees. Anyone cares to concur or disagree.
Ed Miliband insists he wants a “sophisticated” discussion about immigration, moving beyond questions about overall numbers to considering the impact on people’s daily lives.
The Labour leader makes the valid point that anyone concerned about immigration or who wishes to discuss the issue is not necessarily a racist bigot.
Yet he risks inflaming public opinion by his language of British workers being “locked out” of jobs filled by foreigners and his arbitrary demand that employers tell local job centres if more than one in four of their staff is from overseas.
This would, he asserts, enable government agencies at national and local level to work out the skills areas that need strengthening among unemployed British residents.
His formulation that working people need an economy that offers them “a fair crack of the whip” sounds very reasonable, but what the country’s jobless millions need is not a fair crack at existing jobs but a wholly new situation.
While disclaiming responsibility for new Labour’s enthusiastic embrace of free-market globalisation, including open borders for EU new entrant states, and Gordon Brown’s demeaning of worried Labour voter Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman,” Miliband still links immigration to the problems experienced by working people in Britain.
He is wrong. Problems related to employment, income levels, housing and insecurity are caused by the free-market capitalist economic model.
And the immigrants who come to work in Britain, usually in jobs marked by harsh physical conditions, long hours or low pay, are equally victims of the system British workers.
They come here because, as challenging as the jobs are that they take up in Britain, they surpass what is available in their own countries, allowing them to earn their own living and often sustain family members at home.
Working in payment-by-results agriculture, in hotels and hospitality or in private care homes for the elderly is not an easy option. Not everyone is able or willing to take the conditions.
If the Labour leader’s investigation shows that these areas of work routinely have over a quarter of staff coming from overseas, will he conclude that unemployed British workers should be trained to do them?
Miliband ought to be aware from Labour election canvassers that working-class discontent is pretty widespread. It’s not just about jobs.
Many working-class people complain about the lack of affordable rented housing, causing families to split up and live miles apart.
They compare their meagre take-home pay with the multimillion-pound rewards for City slickers and the kid-glove treatment of the wealthy, noting that the rich have to be tempted with carrots while workers are encouraged by the stick.
They are not happy about being abused as wildcats or scroungers by comfortably off politicians who, not content with aiding and abetting the bankers, also helped themselves to shed-loads of public money through unjustified expenses claims.
They are alienated, they have switched off and too many see no hope of change, which is why the level of electoral abstention climbs ever higher.
None of that can be laid at the door of immigrants, “bogus” asylum-seekers, economic migrants or any of the other bogeys conjured up for public consumption by politicians and media.
Miliband should put aside such shabby stereotypes, deliver a more trenchant critique of contemporary capitalism and move away from cosy Establishment policy convergence to consider a more radical approach.