On Thursday 13th June 2013, Grassroot Diplomat had the honour in attending a discussion on the European Union by invitation of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland.
The meeting opened with the Deputy Head of Mission Dariusz Laska, identifying the benefits of free movement of Labour and highlighting examples of the Polish work force. His remarks were followed by Chris Bryant MP, arguing that we should challenge assumptions that immigration is ‘automatically bad’. He outlined that our ‘treasured’ bars and restaurants would simply have not been workable over the last 10 years if it wasn’t for labour migrants. He believed it was legitimate for the government to assess whether the migrant has a reasonable chance of finding a job and that one shouldn’t be let in on a wing and a prayer. The government, however, should have managed the process better using ‘Transitional Controls’, as our communities were simply not ready for the rapidity of the process.
Jonathan Portes, from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, detailed the economic impacts of labour migration stating that it created 1% of GDP for the exchequer. It could possibly be argued that there was some negative impact on wage levels but at any rate, all the other advantages that migration brings to the economy outweigh the negative.
John Wastnage from the British Chambers of Commerce said that the business community search for three particular characteristics for in the labour market: skills, experience, attitude. Only 2% said that lower wages was a key factor, a figure which challenges a lot of perceptions on Migrant Labour. The business community stated that whilst it would be ideal to recruit more locally, protectionism was not possible in the market. Hiring those with the best skills, wherever they came from, was the most important factor. Lack of experience and unpreparedness is said to be a problem in the current market, but this is not just a solo migrant problem but an issue to be tackled by a group from the ground-up with better education, skills and experience. The panel agreed that a better skill pool to choose from leads to increased prosperity. The British business community say a bigger push is needed for those with global skills which include linguistic skills, social connections in other countries and mixed cultural understanding. These combined will help to develop bonds with other markets.
The discussion then moved towards the political debate and current wrangle over welfare reform. Pawel Swidlicki of Open Europe argued that freedom of movement has been positive for everyone including UK and the EU - the problem, however, was communicating this. The current storm over ‘Welfare Tourism’ was unfounded. Statistics showed that other EU citizens were more employed in the UK than UK citizens. He argued that whilst freedom of movement must stay, access to welfare can be re-negotiated, suggesting that wealthier countries need to be able to regulate their social provision. Jackie Morin from the European Commission made the point that equal contribution in social security should result in equal treatment.
Juan Camillo Cock from the Migrants’ Right Network argued that more work needs to be done to protect migrant workers from exploitation in the workplace. He outlined the nature of migrants not knowing the rules on the law of minimum wage, shifts, illegal deductions and unclear payslips. This is clear illustrations that more work needs to be done to educate and protect such migrants.
Other common perceptions were tackled including the fact that many migrants are not ‘poor’ but are corporate executives and other professionals, a point outlined by Vera Spender Kuobkova representing the Czech British Chamber of Commerce in London. All in all, the panel agreed that we should take a more positive and less threatening approach to labour migration, one that leads to better policy and a more coherent future for the EU as a whole.