UK Politics

Companies must recruit more UK workers, says Labour

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Media captionShadow immigration minister Chris Bryant says the government has "resorted to gimmicks"

Labour has urged companies to "do their bit" to ensure they recruit more workers from the UK.

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said training had to improve, with "unscrupulous" employers being prevented from taking on and exploiting people from poorer countries en masse.

But Mr Bryant was forced to tone down criticisms of Tesco and Next's recruitment policies, after complaints.

The coalition said Labour was "badly confused" and lacking credibility.

Immigration in the UK has been in the headlines recently, with the government blaming its predecessor for failing to control numbers while in power from 1997 to 2010.

Labour, however, has been critical of the Home Office's use of vans in London bearing the slogan "Go home" to try to encourage illegal immigrants to turn themselves in.

'Get up and go'

Mr Bryant, giving a speech to the the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank, said: "The government's immigration policy adds up to cheap and nasty gimmicks rather than serious proposals or practical measures to tackle illegal entry."

He called for more focus on encouraging UK businesses to recruit "locally", adding: "And I want to see the government take action - working with companies - to make sure they can recruit more local young people, qualified to to the job."

The hospitality, care and construction industries had "consistently high levels of recruitment from abroad, and far too low levels of training for local young people.

"Now, many employers say they prefer to take on foreign workers. They have lots of 'get up and go', they say. They are reliable. They turn up and they work hard.

"But I've heard examples from across the country where employers appear to have made a deliberate decision not to provide training to local young people but to cut pay and conditions and to recruit from abroad instead, or to use tied accommodation and undercut the minimum wage."

Mr Bryant also said: "So yes, we need British employers to do their bit - working to train and support local young people, avoiding agencies that only recruit from abroad, and shunning dodgy practices with accommodation or to get round the minimum wage."

'Sham marriages'

Companies had to provide school-leavers with "the skills they need for work", with the government making it easier to bring prosecutions for breaches of minimum wage laws.

He also noted "growing incidences of sham marriages", calling for the Home Office to be provided with a "real-time online notification" of all notices to marry, so it could monitor them properly.

But, before delivering his speech, he removed planned excerpts critical of the retail giants Tesco and Next.

In extracts published in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Bryant claimed Tesco had moved a distribution centre 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.

'Good employer'

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".

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.

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."

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

For the coalition, Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: "Labour still won't say sorry for the uncontrolled immigration they allowed, they still won't say that immigration is too high and they still won't say that numbers need to come down.

"Labour have opposed every one of the government's policies to bring immigration under control and refuse to say whether they will support our immigration bill.

"This badly confused speech shows that Labour haven't changed. They still have no idea how they would bring numbers down and they have no credibility on immigration."

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