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Theresa May's post-Brexit immigration plans – a disaster for every worker

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The government's proposed post-Brexit immigration system risks increased exploitation, undercutting and discrimination at work
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The Prime Minister's post-Brexit plans are a danger to every worker

It’s official: Theresa May’s vision for a post-Brexit immigration system is a danger to all workers – wherever they’re from.

Yesterday the government finally released its long-delayed white paper on immigration .

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.

What’s in the white paper?

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.

A gift to bad bosses

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.

Threats to welfare

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.

What workers need

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:

  • Stop playing poker with people’s lives and guarantee all EEA citizens the right to remain in the UK with full rights after Brexit, even if there’s no deal between the UK and EU.
  • Secure a Brexit deal that ensures workers in the UK continue to be covered by EU employment rights – such as those recently brought in to stop undercutting – and ensure barrier and tariff free trade with the EU to protect good jobs in the UK.
  • Grant all workers the ability to enforce employment rights, regardless of immigration status. As the ILO has made clear , employment rights are human rights that workers must always be able to enforce, no matter their status.
  • Support and extend collective bargaining across the economy to guarantee good conditions and pay for all workers. Where employers have negotiated collective agreements with employers, migrants receive the same pay and conditions as other workers.
  • Significantly increase investment in public services (particularly in the regions worst hit by years of austerity) to build decent health, education and social care services for all.
  • Significantly increase investment in skills so everyone can progress and get a decent job.
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