British companies will be obliged to list all “international” members of staff in their employ. The policy was announced by Home Secretary Amber Rudd during her speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, and has been slammed by critics. Rudd asserts that the foreign workers list will “prevent migrants taking jobs British people can do”, legislation that mirrors the rhetoric of migrants ‘coming here and taking our jobs’ rather than facing up to the reality of the British jobs market and economy.
Seamus Nevin, Head of Employment and Skills Policy at the Institute of Directors, describes immigration as a source of tension between the government and the private sector: “Businesses know that the EU referendum result means change to free movement of workers from the EU, but people were not voting to make the economy weaker. The evidence is clear that migrants are a benefit to the economy… The UK has a record level of employment, so immigration is not hurting jobs.”
As part of her address, Rudd made the following promise: “Reducing net migration back down to sustainable levels will not be easy. But I am committed to delivering it on behalf of the British people.”
Yet, according to research from the London School of Economics, immigration does not result in a decrease in jobs or pay for workers born in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, as EU migrants pay more in taxes than they consume through benefits or public services, they are net contributors to the UK economy and reduce the deficit. Since migrants increase demand for goods and services, their presence creates demand and, subsequently, employment opportunities. This research casts doubt on Rudd’s claim that tighter control of immigration will “protect our economy.”
Labour slammed the foreign workers list, the Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnhan dismissing the policy as “xenophobic”. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party united to issue a joint statement criticising Rudd’s conference address as the “…most toxic rhetoric on immigration seen from any government in living memory.”
During her speech, Rudd stated that the government’s immigration policies would “ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do.”
Rudd’s foreign workers list creates a climate in which employers are likely to be publicly named and shamed for not prioritising British workers. The policy contradicts the principle of meritocracy long advocated by the political right. If a job goes to the most qualified candidate, it cannot accurately be said to have been taken from another, irrespective of national identity.
Therefore, the ‘foreign workers list’ puts identity before skill – it is a form of affirmative action, of which the right has long been critical. This reactionary policy-making contradicts the “British values” around which Theresa May claims her politics are formed: if “everybody living in this country is equal”, as May said just last year, then establishing a hierarchy that says people of one background are more deserving of a job than people from another background is distinctly not British.
The right cannot have it both ways. Either there ought to be a free market, or there ought to be special interest groups within that market on whose behalf the state can legitimately intervene. And designating British people a special interest group in the jobs market is a reactionary move that gives lie to the idea that Britain is a meritocratic society.