The Tory leader’s plans to introduce a ‘limited visa’ will make migrant workers second-class citizens and put everyone’s employment rights under threat, argues SOLOMON HUGHES
THE TORIES have a nasty, dangerous plan for migrant workers.
It was partly revealed in the “barista visa” Amber Rudd floated in The Sun, when she claimed that young Europeans would be happy to come work for a couple of years making coffee on a limited post-Brexit visa that excludes them from any social benefits and limits their stay.
The plan was widely mocked — Europeans are unlikely to flock to such a limited offer. But, under this ridiculous slogan, the Tories are developing a scheme. They won’t stop migrant workers coming to Britain. But they will make them emphatically secondclass citizens.
It’s a divide-and-rule plan that will be an injury to all of us, unless we resist it and stick to the principle that everyone good enough to work in Britain deserves equal rights.
The Conservative coalition includes, among others, two constituencies — company bosses who fund the party and bigots who vote for them.
Some people think that there is a contradiction between the bosses and the bigots, in that bosses want migrant workers, while bigots don’t like them.
There’s also the view that capitalism’s need for migrant workers is causing a wake-up in Conservative ranks, so they will not be quite so bad to migrants.
But they haven’t realised Theresa May has a solution to please both bosses and bigots.
There will be migrant workers. But they will be a different, lower, “tier” with less rights.
This solution will hurt all workers, migrant or not, and drive conditions down. All the migrant-bashers worried about “undercutting” will cut their noses off to spite their faces. Which won’t stop them hacking at their own heads.
Brexit minister David Davis said on BBC Question Time in March that migration would go “up and down” after Brexit because “you’ve got industries dependent on migrants, you’ve got social welfare, the NHS.”
This was one of many signals — like Rudd’s barista visa plan — that even though many Brexit votes were won on anti-migrant sentiments, migrant workers will still be expected to do lots of British work.
Similarly Theresa May, interviewed by Andrew Neil on the BBC at the end of March, would not say that there would be a big decline in migration post-Brexit. Instead, May said: “We’ve been able to put rules in place in relation to people coming here to the UK from outside the European Union. Now, as a result of leaving the EU, we’ll be able to put rules in place, decided here, about the basis on which people can come from inside the European Union.”
The rules May is referring to were described by arch-Brexiteer Dan Hannan in the Sun last February as “Theresa May’s Brexit work permit.”
He called it a “five-year work permit,” making it longer than the two-year barista visa. It would be aimed at “sectors with shortages at a lowerwage level” because “much of the hospitality industry depends on people who come to work here for a time, as do parts of the NHS.”
The Tories have already set up the machinery, the “tier three visa,” for these work permits. They “permit” migrants to work but with harsh limitations.
Workers can only stay in Britain for five years and can’t claim any social benefits. Most shockingly, migrants can only get the visa if an employer agrees to sponsor them. They can then only principally “work for your sponsor in the job described in your certificate of sponsorship.” This means that if you lose your job and can’t find another sponsor, you would lose your right to stay in Britain.
This tier three visa was created but suspended because European migrants were filling labour shortages. Once out of the EU, migrant workers can be pushed down to that tier.
Britain relies on over 100,000 migrant workers entering the workforce every year. If these workers arrive on terms that mean they could lose the right to stay if their boss says so, they will be very vulnerable to bullying, low wages and poor conditions.
If they lose their job they get no benefits and will be under pressure to leave the country. If they lose their rights, they will be used to push down wages and conditions, especially in key sectors with many migrant workers.
It’s probably true that many Europeans would reject these terms. But workers from poorer countries, used to shorter migrations and relying on sending remittances back home, might be exploited in their place.
Unless we try to improve the rights of migrant workers, we will all lose out.
Divide and rule is the essence of the Tory approach to workers. George Osborne had already presided over different minimum wage rights based on a new, invented set of age groups — under 18, 18 to 20, 21 to 24 and over 25. They will delight in a new legal division between British and migrant workers.
Some Labour people have been hoping Brexit will force down migration and so force up wages. It’s a fantasy. No Tory government is going to deliberately engineer a labour shortage to force employers to pay more.
The only way to beat undercutting is to fight for all workers to get better pay and benefits.
But some Labour politicians have played with anti-migrant sentiment. Ed Miliband proposed denying EU migrant workers unemployment benefits, even if they had paid national insurance. Bizarrely, he tried to argue this was to stop undercutting. But threatening a key section of the workforce with penury if they didn’t please the boss would have the opposite effect.
An injury to one really is an injury to all, not as a statement of morality but as actual labour market reality.
So, when it comes to May’s scheme, we should say: If you are good enough to work here, you get the same rights as everyone else.
We don’t put some workers on a lower level, be it tier three or any other government jargon for licensed bigotry.