Ed Balls has written an article in the Observer today http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/06/ed-balls-europe-immigration-labour and to be honest, I don’t understand all of it. The bit that seems (unsurprisingly) to have prompted most comment on twitter is Balls’ opinion that Eastern European immigration has had a very negative effect on native workers’ wages and terms and conditions. I don’t know enough to comment too much on this. My gut feeling though is that it shouldn’t (and I know that is different to ‘it doesn’t’) depress wages in unskilled jobs if there are lots of people coming here from Eastern Europe. We have (thanks to the last Labour Government) a minimum wage. Presumably, most unskilled workers won’t be getting too much more than the minimum wage. Certainly in the sector I work in (Early Years/childcare) most people earn barely more than the minimum wage despite being skilled. So the only way migrant workers could be undercutting native workers’ wages is if employers are paying less than the legal minimum wage. Surely the answer here would be to go after such unscrupulous employers.
I tried to find out more and came across this publication ‘Immigration and the labour market’ written for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is a year old but seems relevant. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/Immigration-and-the-Labour-Market.pdf I haven’t read all of it (55 pages and I should really be getting on with some work right now) but the executive summary makes for interesting reading.