Labour minister backtracks on accusations that Tesco and Next favour cheap Eastern Europeans over Britons
Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant was forced to back down today over claims that Tesco and Next employ foreign workers to drive costs down following a backlash from the two companies’ management.
According to the briefed version of his speech on immigration, reported in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, Mr Bryant was expected to accuse two of Britain’s more profitable companies of operating policies which “seem to deliberately exclude British people”.
The row was based on allegations that staff working at the Tesco centre in Harlow, which was being moved to Dagenham, were told that they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay and that as a result a large percentage of the staff hired at the new premises were from Eastern European countries paid on low wages.
After a Tesco spokesman denied the claims and pointed out that the company had just recruited 350 local people to work in its new distribution centre, Bryant’s much anticipated speech to the IPPR centre-left think-tank was moderated today. He rejected claims made in the Sunday Telegraph that he described Tesco and Next as “unscrupulous employers.”
Instead the shadow minister praised Tesco as “a good employer and an important source of jobs in Britain”.
However, he questioned Next’s reliance on workers from Poland on short-term contracts, stating: “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 this is happening.”
When asked by Channel 4 News if he regretted using the two companies as examples over the weekend, Chris Bryant said: “I’m not backtracking from my basic point. If you’re going to make migration work for everyone in the country, big employers including those who are scrupulous about trying to employ local workers like Tesco and Next have a duty to the rest of the community to make sure they follow up on these promises.”
Labour’s attack is designed to regain the upper hand on the issue of immigration and to direct attention to employers as Tories came under fierce criticism for its anti-immigrant campaign after the Home Office sent out vans carrying posters warning illegal migrants to “go home or face arrest”.