Jeremy Corbyn today went on national television to discuss migrant labour and in a few sweeping statements managed to tarnish the name of the construction industry.
The headlines following his appearance on ITV’s sofa were stolen by his proclamation that there should be a cap on salaries for the highest earners in the UK.
He later suggested company bosses should have their pay capped at less than 20 times the rate of their lowest paid worker if they want to win government contracts.
This overshadowed his repeated digs at the construction industry’s approach to employment, which flew somewhat under the radar.
Corbyn’s uninformed argument
Mr Corbyn said: “Employers, particularly in the construction industry, recruit overseas in order to bring in a group of workers to destroy existing wages and worker conditions…”
What an astonishing thing to say. A sweeping statement that he failed to back up with an example of such a rogue employer in construction, choosing instead to cite Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley’s approach to employment as an example.
Mr Ashley is a popular target for MPs and the press – as Mr Corbyn will know. But several times the Labour leader singled out “construction” for its approach to recruiting foreign workers, condemning an industry that represents more than 6 per cent of GDP in one fell swoop and it drew the attention of political commentators.
Are there unethical employers in construction? Unfortunately yes, like in most sectors.
Have unions been deliberately marginalised by some major employers in recent years? Again, yes.
The actual picture
But to be clear: the construction industry would be crippled if migrant labour were withdrawn and employers are often forced to look overseas for workers due to a lack of interest on these shores.
To tar almost a million construction employers with the same brush, at a time when they are trying harder than ever to get young people to consider a career in the industry, was at best disrespectful and at worst utterly foolish.
Mr Corbyn went on to say: “Migrant workers come to this country, work incredibly hard, pay taxes… without them we wouldn’t have much of a health service…”
“To tar almost a million construction employers with the same brush was at best disrespectful and at worst utterly foolish”
He could, however, have referenced the fact that between 2014 and 2016, 45 per cent of construction employment in Greater London was from outside the UK.
Migrant construction workers are helping keep this country going. Restricting freedom of movement would be catastrophic, especially as more than 90 per cent of employers are SMEs who would struggle with the administrative burden this would cause, never mind the task of simply being able to continue to do their jobs without the requisite staff.
Mr Corbyn’s words are unhelpful at a time when politicians need to consider the effect that restrictions of free movement would have on this industry, which will continue to be one of the most important indicators of economic growth in these uncertain times.