It’s official: Theresa May’s vision for a post-Brexit immigration system is a danger to all workers – wherever they’re from.
We think these plans pose a clear risk of increased exploitation, undercutting, division and discrimination in the workplace.
And even the government has admitted that its proposals will make us billions of pounds poorer.
The government wants to bring in new laws after Brexit to make EU workers apply for electronic permits to work in the UK.
Preference would be given to workers taking up skilled jobs, with low-skilled job visas only available for a 12-month period with no right to extend.
This will make it easier for employers to use migrant workers to undercut other workers’ terms and conditions.
And allowing employers to take on workers in low-skilled jobs on temporary contracts will give bad bosses a permanent supply of exploitable labour – increasing the risk of abuse that many migrant workers on precarious contracts already face.
Unions like Unite have documented how EU migrants in the hotel sector are routinely harassed and paid below the minimum wage.
Unions also know from past experience (such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme for Romanian and Bulgarian workers) that those on tied visas often can’t leave abusive employers without losing their legal status in the country.
And the Immigration Act 2016 means that an undocumented worker who reports abuse to the authorities risks being thrown in prison or deported because they’ve admitted to irregular working.
So bad employers can force undocumented workers to accept low pay or bad conditions safe in the knowledge that they’ll be too scared to go to the authorities.
This situation isn’t just bad for migrant workers but for every worker, because it lowers terms and conditions and pay for everyone.
That’s why the TUC believes protecting migrant rights is an essential part of making sure all workers are treated with respect and paid a decent wage.
Limiting the number of migrants that can enter the country from the EU also threatens the welfare of everyone in the UK.
EU citizens play a critical role in helping keep the UK’s public services running. Over 60,000 staff in the NHS alone come from the EU, and EU workers also play a key role in UK industries.
Unions have highlighted how limits to EU migrations based on salary thresholds or skill level would mean sectors such as science, research and health will not able to recruit the workers needed.
EU citizens also pay billions in UK taxes each year that pay for hospitals, schools and local services.
And the white paper itself projects that the proposed restrictions would reduce government revenue by a whopping £4 billion over the first five years they are in place.
If yesterday’s proposals became law, they would also rule out the possibility of the UK getting a good Brexit deal by undermining the rules of the single market. This would mean the UK would not be able to secure tariff and barrier-free trade – which would put millions of jobs at risk.
Instead of a hostile approach to immigration that will only make life worse for hard pressed workers, the government needs to act now to stop undercutting, prevent the exploitation of migrants and deliver decent services for all.
These are the 5 actions the government can – and must – take now before we even leave the EU:
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