Chris Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, has backed down on his criticism of Next and Tesco recruiting foreign workers in his speech today, after both retailers denied the accusations.
According to extracts briefed to the Sunday Telegraph, Bryant was set to say that Tesco told British workers when a distrution centre was moved that they could only keep their jobs if they took a pay cut.
However, he dropped the claim in his speech this morning, which he delivered to the Local Government Association at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
Instead he described Tesco as a “good employer and an important source of jobs in Britain”. He also spoke about the apprenticeships and training schemes the grocer offers.
He went on to say: “When a [Tesco] distribution centre was moved to a new location existing staff said they would have lost out by transferring and the result was a higher proportion of staff from A8 countries [those EU countries with low per capita income] taking up the jobs. Tesco are clear they have tried to recruit locally. And I hope they can provide more reassurance for their existing staff. But the fact that staff are raising concern shows how sensitive the issue has become.”
Tesco showed that Bryant’s original claim that it had moved a distribution centre from Harlow in Essex to Kent - which the grocer pointed out was in fact Dagenham, in east London - where a “large percentage” of the staff are from the Eastern Bloc was false.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We’re pleased that Mr Bryant has recognised that Tesco is a good employer and an important source of jobs in Britain. We worked incredibly hard to recruit people from the local area in Dagenham and as a result of that work, the vast majority are British and live locally. We have one of the best pay and benefits packages in the industry, and we pay the same rate whether our colleagues are British or from the EU.”
Bryant also softened his criticism of fashion retailer Next, which he was set to accuse of recruiting Polish workers to avoid Agency Worker Regulations, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
Instead he said: “Next recruited extra temporary staff for their South Elmsall warehouse for the summer sale – last year and this year. South Elmsall is in a region with 9% unemployment and 23.8% youth unemployment. Yet several hundred people were recruited directly from Poland. The recruitment agency Next used, Flame, has its web-site, www.flamejobs.pl, entirely in Polish.
“Now of course short-term contracts and work are sometimes necessary in order to satisfy seasonal spikes in demand. But when agencies bring such a large number of workers of a specific nationality at a time when there are one million young unemployed in Britain it is right to ask why that is happening. It’s not illegal for agencies to target foreign workers. But is it fair for them to be so exclusive?”
Next refuted Bryant’s initial claims that it used Polish workers to save money. The retailer said the workers were necessary to help deal with “the short burst of activity” over the Summer Sale.
Next said: “Mr Bryant wrongly claims that Polish workers are used to save money. This is simply not true. We are deeply disappointed Mr Bryant did not bother to check his facts with the company before releasing his speech.”
Next said that Polish workers cost the same to recruit as local agency workers and its existing employees. “The only reason we seek the help of people from Poland is that we simply can’t recruit enough local people to satisfy these spikes in demand for temporary work,” the retailer said.
Next added: “Mr Bryant also makes the false claim that the use of Polish workers enables Next to avoid Agency Working regulations. For clarity the nationality of workers in no way affects their rights under Agency Workers Regulations, a fact Mr Bryant should be aware of.”
Tesco and Next hit back at Labour's foreign workers claim
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Labour immigration minister Chris Bryant backtracks on Next and Tesco criticism in immigration speech