LABOUR has demanded the Government do more to tackle the “challenge” of immigration from eastern Europe after admitting its own open-door policy of the past decade drove down wages for the low-paid.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post following a major speech in London, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said she accepted there had been “evidence of a downward impact” on wages for some low-paid British workers as a result of Labour’s failure to limit the number of people moving to the UK from the eight eastern European which joined the EU in 2004.
The West Yorkshire MP said the influx of hundreds of thousands of people from countries such as Poland has had an “unequal impact” on different sectors of the economy, and left some British workers being “undercut” by unscrupulous employers who pay migrant workers less than the minimum wage.
Earlier this week Labour leader Ed Miliband told TV viewers in a party political broadcast that Labour “got it wrong” on immigration and should have restricted the number of immigrants from eastern Europe, as most other member states chose to do.
In her keynote speech yesterday, Ms Cooper said it was important to recognise there are “different types of migration”, but accepted that low-skilled immigration had been “too high” under Labour.
“We did see a significant increase in low-skilled migration as a result of the A8 migration and other changes,” she said.
“And we also saw evidence of there being a downward impact, a small downward impact, on low-skilled wages for the lower-paid.
“We also know from the cases people raise with us, particularly around low-skilled labour, people were finding themselves undercut because of (employers) not paying the minimum wage, or recruitment agencies just operating with foreign workers.”
Labour is determined to draw a line under its past record on immigration, and Ms Cooper set out a series of new policies designed to crack down on illegal immigrants and those abusing student visa rules.
But she said it was immigration from within the EU which actually “creates greatest public concern”.
“We have to recognise that managing migration is more challenging when it comes to Europe, and reforms are needed here too,” she said.
She promised a future Labour Government would “ensure maximum transitional controls for any future countries joining the EU.”
And she called for an immediate crackdown on unscrupulous employers, “rogue landlords” and “abuse” by recruitment agencies who exploit migrant workers to drive down wages and living standards.
Most eye-catching was her call for “sensible action” on welfare and public services, including a ‘presence test’ that would prevent new immigrants from immediately making jobs benefits claims.