On Immigration, Labour Will Fight Exploitation And Unfairness

22/09/2013 19:28 | Updated 22 November 2013

As one of the world's great trading nations, immigration has made a huge contribution to our country. Migrants have helped build our economy and staffed our public services. The list of those who have made a dramatic contribution is lengthy.

NHS nurses and doctors, bus drivers, high tech specialists and manual workers.

We are also rightly proud that our shores offered a safe haven to those who have been persecuted because of their race, their politics or religion. Those in the 1930s fleeing Nazi Germany or in the 1970s, fleeing Idi Amin's dictatorship or more recently survivors from atrocities in Africa and the Balkans. Britain should never abandon that proud tradition, opposing torture and defending human rights.

However, there is no doubt that there's been a growing reliance on overseas workers in recent years. That's not a sign of a healthy economy, but a dysfunctional one.

We should want our employers to provide training to the next generation of workers here at home, yet only 4-8% of British employers are thought to offer apprenticeships. Exploitation of migrant workers and undercutting of local workers' wages is common in certain industries. In the care sector alone, which has become heavily dependent on low skilled migrant labour, 220,000 workers are paid less than the minimum wage

Under Ed Miliband's leadership, Labour will tackle these problems, combat the exploitation and help end the unfairness.

When a million young people are unemployed, we need to do more as a country to encourage employers to give young workers a chance. And we need to do more to invest in the long-term productive capacity of the economy.

So we will require every firm hiring a migrant worker from outside the EU to offer an apprenticeship in return. We will use procurement rules to ensure that large firms given government contracts offer apprenticeships. This will apply to what's called 'Tier 2' workers, and we will consult on whether it should also apply to some intra-company transfers.

We are determined to halt the race to the bottom whereby exploitation and undercutting of workers' wages are far too common.

So we will establish a taskforce to understand and tackle exploitation within the care sector - as the first step in a process to ensure proper systems are in place to trigger swift action in all those sectors where there is evidence of a dependence on low skilled migrant labour.

We will take action to minimum wage enforcement. Far too often companies have paid beneath the minimum wage to both migrant and British workers. We have already said we will double the fines for firms paying people below the minimum wage. But there is a case for going even further - by increasing the maximum fine for paying below the minimum wage to £50,000, the same level as for illegal fly-tipping.

And as Yvette Cooper has already said, we will end the use of slum housing to undercut local workers and exploit migrant labour and we will look to extend the powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

We want to build a One Nation economy built on fairness and equity. That means a new approach to immigration so that we all benefit from it, based on strong controls, and an understanding that there are different kinds of immigration and preventing the undercutting of local workers.

Chris Bryant MP is Labour's Shadow Minister for Immigration