Labour amends foreign workers speech

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant: "There are unscrupulous employers"

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Labour's immigration spokesman has modified his planned criticisms of two of the UK's biggest retailers over claims they favoured Eastern European workers over Britons.

In a speech, Chris Bryant said Tesco had to provide "reassurance", while Next was cited for using a recruitment site "entirely in Polish".

But he removed other critical excerpts referring to both firms, which had been reported in the press over the weekend.

Tesco and Next had raised concerns.

In extracts published in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Bryant claimed Tesco had moved a distribution centre to Kent where "a large percentage" of staff were "from Eastern bloc" countries.

Staff at an original site, "most of them British, were told that they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay", he was reportedly due to say.

'Sensitive'

After complaints from the company, these passages were removed.

In the speech itself, Tesco was described as a "good employer and an important source of jobs in Britain".

Analysis

The government is on the defensive over immigration. A controversial ad van campaign is dismissed as offensive and racist.

Labour spots an opportunity to capitalise on the usually quiet summer recess. It decides to tackle "unscrupulous" behaviour by some firms who seem to target foreign workers to undercut UK workers.

It even unveils a policy proposal too, albeit small scale, on sham marriages. But what should've been a logical continuation of Ed Miliband's "predators v producers" theme from 2011 turned into a lesson in how not to get your message out there.

It was sloppy and appeared to be misinformed. Chris Bryant even veered towards the language of resignation statements when he said he took "full responsibility" for the way extracts of the speech were released in advance to a newspaper.

All a distraction from ideas that many people would like to hear more about, especially in areas where a concentration of foreign workers has caused tension in communities and strained public services.

However, Mr Bryant added: "Yet when a distribution centre was moved to a new location, existing staff said they would have lost out by transferring and the result was a higher proportion of staff from A8 countries [those with lower per capita incomes within the EU] taking up the jobs.

"Tesco are clear they have tried to recruit locally. And I hope they can provide more reassurance for their existing staff. But the fact that staff are raising concern shows how sensitive the issue has become."

Before he delivered the speech, Mr Bryant had also been expected to say that Next had "brought 500 Polish workers to work in their South Elmsall [West Yorkshire] warehouse for their summer sale and another 300 this summer".

He had been due to say the workers had been "recruited in Poland and charged £50 to find them accommodation".

But when he gave the speech, Mr Bryant did not mention numbers of employees taken on at South Elmsall by Next or any charge for accommodation.

However, he said the company had used the flamejobs.pl recruitment agency, whose website was written "entirely in Polish".

Wrongly drafted

He added: "Now of course short-term contracts and work are sometimes necessary in order to satisfy seasonal spikes in demand.

"But when agencies bring such a large number of workers of a specific nationality at a time when there are one million young unemployed in Britain, it is right to ask why that is happening."

Before the speech, Tesco denied some of Mr Bryant's claims, saying he had been "wrong" to say it had a new distribution centre in Kent.

It had in fact set one up in Dagenham, east London. Mr Bryant acknowledged that the initial location had been wrongly drafted.

A Tesco spokesman said: "We're pleased that Mr Bryant has recognised that Tesco is a good employer and an important source of jobs in Britain.

"We worked incredibly hard to recruit people from the local area in Dagenham, and as a result of that work the vast majority are British and live locally.

"We have one of the best pay and benefits packages in the industry, and we pay the same rate whether our colleagues are British or from the EU."

Before the speech, a Next spokesman said: "We are deeply disappointed Mr Bryant did not bother to check his facts with the company before releasing his speech.

Van showing the 'Go home' message The Home Office "go home" campaign is being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority

"In fact, agency workers from Poland cost us exactly the same as local agency workers and our existing employees.

"The only reason we seek the help of people from Poland is that we simply can't recruit enough local people to satisfy these spikes in demand for temporary work."

However, the Conservative MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, offered Mr Bryant some support.

He said many of his constituents employed at the Tesco distribution site had been forced to take redundancy when operations shifted to Dagenham rather than a pay cut of up to £10,000.

He accused Tesco of being "a ruthless company" and said the Tories should be "the party of small business and fair business".

Mr Rose, executive director of the Recruitment Society, an industry body, told BBC Radio 5 live that Labour had got it wrong.

"They don't have their facts correct and it's part of a current jingoism that's going around about British jobs for British workers," he said.

Sham marriages

Peter Mooney, head of consultancy at Employment Law Advisory Services, also told 5 live the national minimum wage and agency worker regulations applied to all EU citizens employed in the UK.

"They are entitled to recruit to fulfil a seasonal need. Where they get their workers from, as long as it's within the law, is absolutely fine."

On Friday the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that it was investigating, after 60 complaints, a scheme in which vans drove through London calling on illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest".

A Home Office spokesman said it was in contact with the ASA and would "respond in due course".

In his speech, Mr Bryant said that such "cheap and nasty gimmicks" by the government left "a nasty taste in the mouth".

He also proposed new powers to tackle an "epidemic" of sham marriages, and called for the Home Office to be given more information and powers to investigate suspicious marriages.

A Downing Street source said net immigration had fallen by a quarter since the general election and that Labour should apologise for having let immigration get out of control when in power.

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