Wages, Migrants and Protecting Workers’ Rights:

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Wages, Migrants and Protecting Workers’ Rights:
A Programme for a Corbyn-Led Labour government

Contents

Casualisation
Migrant Workers and the EU Referendum
Migration: the Facts
Brexit: the Facts
Trade Union Principles – the Fight for Unity
The Economy and Migration
Making the Labour Market Work for Us: a Programme for a Corbyn-Led Labour Government
The Contract of Employment
The Worst Abuses we Need to Correct:
Zero Hours Contracts
Self-Employed Workers
Agency Workers
Other Reforms Needed:
Labour Law
Trade Union Action
Other Legislation:
Company Law Reform
Employment Tribunals
Blacklisting
The Minimum Wage
Our Programme of Employment Rights for a Corbyn-Led Labour Government

Casualisation
Britain is booming, we are told. A record 31.7 million workers are in employment. That’s not all. The UK economy is greedily drawing in migrant labour to satisfy the needs of production. Compare this with the wretched employment record of continental countries such as Spain and Greece, where nearly half of their young people are unable to find a job. That is the tale that the Tories are spinning us.

There is a dark side to this. There has been a wholesale casualisation of the jobs market in the UK, a massive decline in security and conditions of employment here. The UK has experienced no rise in real wages and working class living standards since the Great Recession struck in 2008. And productivity, output per worker-hour, has remained virtually stagnant all that time.

Part of the reason for this debasement of the dignity and respect due to labour is the protracted deindustrialisation which has afflicted the former industrial heartlands of this country. Whole regions have seen relatively secure well-paid jobs disappear as the coal mines, steel mills and great factories closed. Nothing like them has taken their place. Instead a generation of desperate people, anxious to grasp any opportunity however precarious and badly paid, has emerged to work in call centres, fast food outlets and supermarkets. Long established trade union traditions have been eroded in the process.

The Great Recession has accelerated these trends enormously. It provided a spur for bosses to seek out ways of squeezing more and more out of their workforce in return for providing less and less. Workers are now seen by their employers as disposable items.

Britain is being steered in the direction of a low wage, low skills economy. How low can we go? Of course it is utterly unrealistic to envisage Britain, formerly the workshop of the world, being able to compete with the starvation wages of the third world – even if that were desirable. But capitalists in Britain don’t have a strategy for a long term future for the country, only an instinct as to how to make money in the here and now. And they want to drive wages down.
Polly Toynbee (Guardian 02.08.16) gives the example of the road transport industry:

“This is what market failure looks like. There’s a shortage of HGV drivers in an economy that relies on moving mountains of heavy goods. Road haulage companies complain bitterly that they can’t recruit; operators are turning business away for lack of drivers.

Yet at the same time there are large numbers of the unskilled, especially the young, who need training to get a job, or an upgrade from zero-hours, low-paid work to something better. Easy, you might think, to connect the two – but it’s not happening, according to last week’s report from the House of Commons transport committee.”

What is happening instead is that the road haulage companies are recruiting drivers from abroad, mainly from Eastern Europe, and are able to drive down workers’ conditions wholesale in the process. If the firms were to spend money on training, they fear their drivers would be poached by others; so everybody aims to poach and no training gets done. This is the road to ruin, and in Britain it is happening in one industry after another.

Naturally at the time of writing the CBI employers’ federation is opposing a Tory proposal for a minimal apprenticeship levy, despite the fact that any improvement in standards of training would benefit employers in the long run. Should we really leave these people in charge of British industry?
‘Labour market flexibility’ means that workers are under the hammer. It is also a formula for long term industrial failure.

Migrant Workers and the EU Referendum

So are migrant workers really being used to undercut ‘British’ rates of pay? Many feel that this is the case. The June 2016 vote for Brexit was driven in large part by fears about migration. It is completely understandable that millions of workers feel left behind when they can see that others in Britain have prospered mightily over recent years. But it is a dangerous illusion to identify migrant labour as the enemy.

The vote for and against departure from the European Union (EU) was mixed. There were different votes by age, by region, and by people’s usual voting intention.
• Young people were more likely to vote for ‘Remain’.
• The big metropolitan centres generally voted to ‘Remain’.  These areas tend to have the highest level of migrant workers, but they also are generally more prosperous, so migrant labour is seen as less of a threat to jobs, wages and conditions.
• Regions such as South Wales and the North-East of England voted heavily to ‘Leave’. These regions are parts of the country with low levels of migration. But they are areas of longstanding industrial decline and the folk there may well feel ‘left behind’. Living standards here are not threatened by an influx of migrants, but by the lack of jobs to replace their traditional industrial employment. Such jobs as are created are low-paid and insecure.

• It is generally the case that the majority of those who voted to ‘Leave’ were Tory or UKIP voters; nationally about 60% of Tories and presumably almost all UKIP voters were Brexiteers; while almost two-thirds of Labour and SNP supporters voted to ‘Remain’. Though there was a left vote of protest against the EU, it was dwarfed by opposition to European Union membership from normally right wing voters. It is simply not the case that the majority of those who voted to ‘Leave’ were disaffected working class voters from distressed former industrial areas.

• Traditional agricultural areas such as Boston in Lincolnshire (which voted strongly for ‘Leave’) faced different problems again regarding migration. They have received a very significant influx of migrant labour recruited for fruit picking and other agricultural work during the growing season. As a result public services may well be overwhelmed, particularly since the local authorities are usually controlled by the Tories, who are utterly uninterested in the plight of working people whether ‘native’ or ‘foreign’. For the most part, particularly in agricultural work, these migrant workers are seasonal and go home when the work is done.
We shall show that some of these migrant workers are deliberately recruited in order to drive down rates of pay in the UK. A chain of supply which extends from UK-based employers to labour market intermediaries operates across EU borders and is organised to take advantage of the EU rules on freedom of services. This is deliberate undercutting. Migrant workers are the victims, not the enemy.

All the same the evidence is that the overall effect of migration on living standards is marginal as a recent report entitled ‘Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK’ from the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics shows that EU immigration has benefited the UK overall
http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/pa015.pdf):” title=“read here”>read here

“Second, because EU immigrants are more likely to be in work and are younger and better educated than the British born, they pay more in tax than they take out in welfare. So immigrants have helped subsidise the NHS and other public services for British people…. Finally, people born in the UK who live in areas of the country that have had big influxes of EU migrants have not suffered lower wages or job opportunities… To many people it seems obvious that migration is bad for jobs as we all know stories of how a friend has gone for a job and a migrant got it. But there isn’t a fixed lump of jobs. Migrants have to live, sleep, eat and drink so they increase demand and this increased expenditure creates new jobs. This means that the net effect of immigration in an area turns out to be zero.”

The Report continues:
“Median real wages for those born in the UK were growing from the late 1990s until the global financial crisis. Since then, wages have fallen by about 10%. Such falls in real wages are unprecedented in the post-war period. The story of the latest recession was not that many more people lost their jobs, but that most people’s wages fell. (Figure 6) confirms that this fall happened while EU immigration was rising – but equally the big gains in real wages for UK workers were experienced at a time when EU immigration was also rising. So the cause of the fall of wages is the impact of the Great Recession – not immigration.”

This is confirmed by the most recent ‘2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study’, a Report issued by the Department of Trade and Industry every few years. The first part is entitled ‘In the Shadow of Recession’ (since the crash of 2008).
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/336651/bis-14-1008-WERS-first-findings-report-fourth-edition-july-2014.pdf)” title=“read here”>read here

• The Survey found that 41% of employers had responded by freezing wages,
• 28% were not filling vacant posts,
• 25% had implemented ‘changes in work organisation’ (to be looked at in more detail later),
• 13% had made compulsory redundancies.

The next section of the Report is called ‘More Work, Less Pay? Employees in Recession’, to which the simple answer to the question is ‘Yes’.
In other words the recession produced a huge shake-out at work, a shake-out that hit working people hard.

The Great Recession was the biggest collapse in output and employment since the Great Depression which struck in 1929. Its effect on national economies all over the world, and in the world of work, is incalculable and dwarfs any effect of migration upon wages.

The effect of migration on wages is in any case part of a much wider process i