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Monday 23 February 2004

MIGRANT WORKERS


Today David Blunkett will outline measures to prevent migrant workers abusing the benefits system when the EU expands on May 1st.


It follows widespread reports that large numbers of migrants are planning to come to the UK. But many thousands of migrant workers are already here -- working in the construction industry.

A survey by the considerate constructors' scheme, a nationwide organisation suggests that 10% of workers on British building sites do not speak English as a first language. Monitors carrying out the survey found many were from former communist countries. David Hardy, general manager of the scheme, reported one building site where everyone, including the site manager, was Polish.

A million people work on building sites in Britain, so this suggests a significant number of Eastern Europeans. Yet in all, only just over 2,000 work permits were given out in the construction industry in 2002. Research suggests other documents are being used to gain work on site.

Within construction, Inland Revenue cards are widely accepted as identification, and proof of right to work. The Construction Industry Scheme or CIS 4 card allows 18% tax to be deducted at source: it's commonly held by workers earning less than £30,000 a year.

The inland revenue will give out a temporary version of this card without checking the applicant's immigration status. And while such a card is not supposed to be accepted as proof of right to work by an employer, there's widespread confusion in the industry.

Gerry Lean of the Construction Confederation, which represents the biggest builders in Britain, says many subcontractors are accepting the temporary card in error. Last tax year the Inland Revenue gave out 39,100 temporary CIS 4 cards. The Home Office says it is aware of the plan and will tighten the regulations soon.

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