Labour has clashed with supermarket giant Tesco over claims made by a senior MP about recruiting foreign workers.
Shadow immigration Minister Chris Bryant is set to highlight the activities of Tesco in a speech attacking “unscrupulous employers” who recruit cheap labour from Eastern Europe.
In a speech today, he will claim the supermarket moved its distribution centre to Kent where a “large percentage” of the staff are from the eastern bloc, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
But the supermarket denied having a distribution centre in the county and it is understood the firm will write to Labour to complain about the “unfair” attack.
According to extracts from the speech in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Bryant will acknowledge that immigration can have a negative effect on labour markets.
He will say: “It is unfair that unscrupulous employers whose only interest seems to be finding labour as cheaply as possible will recruit workers in large numbers in low-wage countries in the EU, bring them to the UK, charge the costs of their travel and their substandard accommodation against their wages and still not even meet the national minimum wage.”
In his speech, which also contains criticism of high street chain Next, Mr Bryant will make it clear that neither firm has broken the law.
Mr Bryant plans to say: “Take the case of Tesco, who recently decided to move their distribution centre in Kent.
“The new centre is larger and employs more people, but the staff at original site, most of them British, were told that they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay. The result? A large percentage of the staff at the new centre are from [the] Eastern bloc.”
Tesco said it had recruited 350 local people to work in its distribution centre in Dagenham, which is in east London and was formerly in Essex, not Kent.
A spokesman said: “It is wrong to accuse Tesco of this. We work incredibly hard to recruit from the local area, and have just recruited 350 local people to work in our Dagenham site.”
Mr Bryant will accuse Next of printing leaflets in Polish to attract workers from the country.
Extracts from his speech say: “Look at Next Plc, who last year brought 500 Polish workers to work in their South Elmsall [West Yorkshire] warehouse for their summer sale and another 300 this summer.
“They were recruited in Poland and charged £50 to find them accommodation. The advantage to Next?
“They get to avoid agency workers’ regulations, which apply after a candidate has been employed for over 12 weeks, so Polish temps end up considerably cheaper than the local workforce, which includes many former Next employees.”
Tesco closed its distribution centre in Harlow and had behaved “disgracefully” towards its staff, the town’s Tory MP said.
Robert Halfon told Sky News: “They said they were building a new Dagenham plant and the Harlow plant in my own constituency would be alongside it.
“The moment the plant was built it was suddenly announced the Harlow plant would close. They then said to the British Harlow workers yes, they could have jobs in Dagenham, but it would be at lower pay after transitional costs had been taken in.
“As a result the majority of them couldn’t afford to work in Dagenham and had to take redundancy.”
He added: “Tesco in my view behaved quite disgracefully and quite ruthlessly.”
However, Mr Halfon criticised Labour for allowing “uncontrolled immigration” during the party’s time in office.
A spokesman for Next said: “Mr Bryant wrongly claims that Polish workers are used to save money.
“This is simply not true.
“In fact agency workers from Poland cost us exactly the same as local agency workers, and our 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 nationality of workers in no way affects their rights under agency workers regulations.”