Thursday, 27 July 2017

Laying the blame in the right place

In his latest remarks on immigration, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be moving his party further and further towards the position and rhetoric used by UKIP.  Worse still, he seems to be as determined as UKIP to blame the immigrants and/or the European Union for the failings of UK Government and UK legislators.
He’s actually right in drawing attention to one of the problems, which is unscrupulous employers and agencies bringing in workers from other EU countries – primarily Eastern Europe – and paying them very low wages, sometimes even below the national minimum wage.  One of the ways that they get away with this apparent breach of UK law is by providing transport and accommodation and then deducting those costs from the pay of the workers concerned.  The question, though, is who is to blame for this?
Reading Corbyn’s comments, one might reasonably conclude that it is a consequence of the ‘freedom of movement’ within the EU, and that Brexit would therefore enable a UK Government to put a stop to the practice.  However, the real problem here isn’t with the EU at all – it’s with the inadequacy of UK legislation covering agency workers, and with unscrupulous employers taking advantage of that inadequacy.  It doesn’t require Brexit to end this exploitation; it merely requires a UK Government with the political will.  On that score, the workers concerned have been badly let down by successive UK Governments, Tory and Labour alike.  And their failure to act is one of the misdirected reasons for an increase in resentment about foreign workers in the UK.
Perhaps if Corbyn gets the chance, post-Brexit, he might lead a government committed to taking action against this form of exploitation.  But for the long term, it’s more likely that legislation will be shaped by the Tories than by Labour.  And they’ve already made it clear that their preference is for less control over the way businesses employ people not more.  Deliberate obfuscation over the cause of the problem could end up making things worse, not better.

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