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The supposed “evil” of hiring foreign workers

Roger Thornhill, an occasional commenter here who also has his own blog, asks what is all the fuss about a foreign firm in the UK hiring foreign workers? He points out that if a UK firm operating in say, Germany, were to bring over some of its own staff, it might cause outrage among the locals, but then UK unions would protest at their members being banned from working abroad.

The truth is that when Gordon Brown made his comment, “British jobs for British workers”, he stoked the flames of a protectionist labour force doctrine that is now threatening to get out of hand. The disgrace of it is that even when the UK economy was growing relatively strongly, millions of able-bodied UK adults were not working and living off benefits. The tax, benefit and education system conspire to keep large numbers of the indigenous population out of the workforce. So naturally, firms turn to other sources of labour if they feel they can get a better deal.

In these tough times I feel sympathy for skilled workers who have felt themselves to be frozen out by a foreign employer doing business in the UK, but the brutal fact has to be faced that as far as many employers are concerned, some of the locals are just not as employable as foreigners. It is a terrible indictment of what has happened to the UK labour market under this administration. Untangling the mess is, or should be, a priority lest the situation fans the flames of protectionism, with disastrous consequences.

Update: The always cool-headed Chris Dillow puts up a feast of links explaining the impact of such foreign labour on local markets.

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27 comments to The supposed “evil” of hiring foreign workers

  • Andrew Duffin

    “It is a terrible indictment of what has happened to the UK labour market under this administration.”

    You’re right, but equally it’s
    a terrible indictment of what has happened to the UK education system under this administratrion.

    Not to mention the perverse incentives thrown up by the Welfare State, also extended and encouraged under this administration.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    You’re right, but equally it’s
    a terrible indictment of what has happened to the UK education system under this administratrion.

    I know. I wrote this in the original post, remember:

    The tax, benefit and education system conspire to keep large numbers of the indigenous population out of the workforce.

  • el windy

    If this dispute was only about the free movement of labour in the EU then I would agree. However, I feel that the only skill the UK workers are lacking is the ability to keep their mouths shut (a) when the salary officially declared by the “contractor” fails to match that being paid and (b) when payday comes and goes and no money is forthcoming for at least a couple of months. That kind of skilled worker can only be found in southern Europe where the “contractor” hails from. The free movement of labour must not be confused with a blank cheque given to so-called “contractors” to do what the hell they want.
    Failure of the education system in this country? Have you looked at the Italian and/or Portuguese education systems recently?

  • Worker

    It’s not true. There are highly skilled local people in Poole (Sunseeker) who have lost their jobs and have been replaced by Eastern Europeans.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Worker, if they are so highly skilled, why have they been replaced?

  • Gabriel

    Worker, if they are so highly skilled, why have they been replaced?

    What a strange argument. Why did Liverpool lose to Everton? More pertinently, why do ethnic and cultural groups tend to clump in recognisable districts rather than being evenly dispersed throughout cities?

    Once you grasp this, you might be half way on the road to seeing why the argument for Free Trade in goods has, at the very least, to be completely re-modelled before it can be applied to labour.

  • Pete

    If there is nothing wrong with hiring foreign workers why did all pre-2004 EU countries excpet Sweden, the UK and Ireland ban post-2004 nationals from working in their countries, a ban the UK joined with Bulgarian and Rumanian workers when those countries joined the EU?

    If the UK had adopted a more cautious approach we wouldn’t have hundreds of theousands of eastern Europeans working here while unemployment rockets.

    But then Tony was only expecting 13,000 people wasn’t he?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Pete, of course there is a lot of hypocrisy and double standards at work here; I am the last person to defend the EU, to put it mildly.

    As for the point about hundreds of thousands of immigrants working here, as I said, even when the economy was doing relatively well, a high proportion of new vacancies were filled by immigrants, not by the indigenous population; that fact has to do, as I said, with the toxic effects of tax, benefits, education and the rest. Blaming the “foreigner” is such a cop-out.

  • M

    a high proportion of new vacancies were filled by immigrants, not by the indigenous population; that fact has to do, as I said, with the toxic effects of tax, benefits, education and the rest. Blaming the “foreigner” is such a cop-out.

    Does this not suggest that mass immigration only allows politicians to get away with all these problems they have caused. The immigrants filling the jobs allowed the rot to be more easily concealed. I know this is hardly the fault of the immigrants themselves, but a more prudent immigration policy may have made people wake up to reality.

    And while firms may be well within their rights to solely hire foreigners, their patriotism is very suspect.

  • Laird

    Gabriel, I don’t understand your comment. Presumably the answer to Johnathan’s question would be something along the lines of “because they could do the same quality of work at a lower cost”, which is what a free market for labor implies. Indeed, it so obvious that I think the question was essentially rhetorical. But your response seems to be a total non sequitur. I must be missing something; could you please elucidate?

  • “Blaming the “foreigner” is such a cop-out. ” and traducing the natives isn’t? The current discontent isn’t because a bunch of welfare addicts are being denied work,it is because skilled workers are losing jobs to imported labour.

  • tdh

    One problem in MA, probably present in the UK, although perhaps not in connection with workers from the east or south, is that illegal workers and their employers get to ignore the same laws that hobble and burden everyone else (minimum wage, prevailing wage, union rates, &c). Anyone who tries to live by the law is screwed, in certain industries.

  • why do ethnic and cultural groups tend to clump in recognisable districts rather than being evenly dispersed throughout cities?

    I wonder why the recent influx of Poles, Czechs and Slovaks did not do that then? Probably because their English language skills tended to be much better than previous waves. It is hard to see how they were not a big net benefit to the UK economy, not to mention the communities into which so many integrated so rapidly.

  • Samsung

    For what it’s worth, this personal experience might throw a little light onto the subject at hand. My cousin is a trained welder and was working on the English & Scottish border last November and could see his contract with his firm coming to and end soon, and so decided to ring up another local construction company in order to inform them that he was looking for work and was wanting to send his details and CV off. Their reply was, “Don’t bother, we are only employing on Eastern Europeans”. After his job came to an end, he came back down to his home county of Yorkshire and rang up a building firm in Sheffield to look for work. Their reply was, ”No thanks mate, we are only taking on Poles”. Luckily my cousin has found another job. According to my cousin, this kind of thing is common, and really pisses off a lot of skilled working class people who are simply trying to make a living and find that they are now having to compete with ‘cheap monkey labour from Eastern Europe’. Sorry, but that’s what a lot of ordinary folk think. The resentment towards foreign labour is VERY common here where I live, and it has been bubbling away for a long time.

  • Gabriel

    I wonder why the recent influx of Poles, Czechs and Slovaks did not do that then?

    This is what happens when you’re a writer/blogger/thinker and so are all your friends. They do, it’s just that, as with other communities, they arrive dispersed and then clump and they’ve only been here a few years in most cases. Surely you’ve noticed that some Tescos have great big heffalumping sections full of Polish dried tomato soup, Polish chocolate etc. and some don’t. (Though perhaps you’ve never been to Tescos). Moreover, this clumping is especially true of workplaces. It’s common experience that once a workplace becomes 50% Pole it will very soon become more or less 100%. Multi-cultural workplaces are simply much harder to manage.

    not to mention the communities into which so many integrated so rapidly.

    What communities? Where? I don’t doubt that Poles are far preferable to many other groups, as it happens, but this certainly isn’t because they don’t demonstrate a marked preference for sticking to their own. They do.

    Laird,
    It’s all about rationality. Strictly speaking, the term “rational consumer” means only that if he prefers A to B and B to C he should prefer A to C. However, usually when we use the term we mean that the consumer buys products based on *objective* factors such as price and quality, without too much sentimentality, bigotry etc. When it comes to buying nails this is basically true, when it comes to employing people it just isn’t. Moreover, nails don’t have agency, so if I buy nails from one country one week and another country the next, they don’t get into a fight in my drawer.

    Honestly, do you actually believe the dominant factors in job selection processes are skills and wage demands? Really? What industry do you work in?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Gabriel, people clump together for different reasons. I tend to hang out with people who share such traits as a similar sense of humour, intelligence, general niceness, and so on. They include a Pole, Australian, South African, Maltese (including my wife), a Frenchman, several Italians, Americans, New Zealanders, not to mention sundry Brits of all classes.

    I am not really sure what point you are trying to make here (never mind the weird reference to football). The argument as far as I can see is that the workers protesting about the Total hiring policy claim they have been discriminated against. Under current EU and UK employment law, there might be a legitimate grievance; however, once we go down the path of objecting to “foreigners” taking “our jobs”, it is as well to realise that it goes the other way.

    As to supermarkets, my local in Pimlico seems to have a lot of French and Italian produce to suit some of the locals. It is actually very impressive how these businesses adjust their inventories in such ways, surely one of the glories of capitalism.

  • Gabriel

    I am not really sure what point you are trying to make here (never mind the weird reference to football).

    Plainly, so let’s focus on this. Liverpool are better than Everton, yet they lost to Everton. How can we resolve this logical impossibility?
    A. It is possible for one team to beat another team for reasons other than being better than said team.

    I know people who got their job by lying on their CV; I know people who missed a crucial inerview because their car broke down; I know people whose father got them a prestigious job; I know people who can’t seem to get one no matter how hard they try. There are millions of reasons why people end up where they do, luck being not the least of them and merit being far from the greatest.

    So, if there’s some poor sod who wants to work, but can’t because the local factory only employs foreign workers, it’s no use saying that isn’t unfair, it is. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a better way, but it also doesn’t mean that this poor sod and other poor sods like him are collectively or individually responsible for their shitty situation or shouldn’t be angry about it.

    There’s a too common assumption among Libertarians that, because we live in a freeish market, most people get what they deserve. The only exceptions admitted are where specific government (or the state-banking nexus, or the military-industrial complex) malfeasance can be pointed to. That’s wrong. To be honest, I rather suspect that if many of you lot* ever cottoned on to just how spectacularly and consistently (though not regularly) unfair life is, and would still be even in a much freer market, you’d become revolutionary socialists overnight.

    *Paul Marks being the obvious exception.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    There’s a too common assumption among Libertarians that, because we live in a freeish market, most people get what they deserve.

    That is plain wrong. In market exchange, desert has nothing to do with it. If Gabriel earns £100,000 a year and I earn less or more, that is because we command different valuations from people for our services. This is neither fair or unfair. It is just how it is. Merit has nothing to do with it. Of course, it is a sort of “noble lie” that folk who work hard get what they deserve, but obviously a lot of people do not. The response is either to be philosophical about it – as I try to do – or support socialistic policies to grab the wealth of those who, for whatever reason, are considered to be “underserving”. For fairly obvious reasons, we reject the latter course of action.

  • Gabriel

    JP, I’ll admit that’s a sounder position than I gave you credit for, but I would go further.

    If X has a higher salary than Y, the explanation may lie in X’s skills having a higher market value (leaving merit per se. completely aside). On the other hand, it’s just as likely that the guy interviewing X liked his/her legs, or couldn’t remember much about the interviews when it came to do selecting and just went eeny meeny, miney mo, or plays golf with X’s uncle etc. etc.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    A lot of reasons why folk get work is for nothing to do with any objective standards about their work proficiency. This is not very admirable but unless someone can claim they have been deprived of something to which they have a right, it is difficult to see how one can object to this. For example, if I were a Muslim, I might feel more confortable hiring other Muslims, for instance. This is “discrimination” under employment law but as a supporter of the right of association and freedom of contract, I see no problem with that.

    On a more practical level, if firms wish to retain the goodwill of other suppliers, etc, it makes sense to be fair and seen to be fair in their recruitment policies. For that reason, Total has scored a massive own goal by its hiring policy.

    You are right of course that a lot of people lie about their job histories, though this is now treated very seriously by the courts if it is found out. I know of at least two people who were prosecuted for lying about their CVs.

  • davidC

    Shouldn’t a person who has a family to support expect to be able to work within a reasonable distance from their own home!

  • Laird

    No. Move elsewhere if you can’t find work you like.

  • abc

    Shouldn’t a person who has a family to support expect to be able to work within a reasonable distance from their own home!

    No, but if this is your interest and you can fight for it and gain dominance then why not? Self-interest is everything sometimes and the big political forces will stand in contradiction to it. So fuck the EU.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Looking at this from the outside, and not as an exercise in political theory; might I note that while this may or may not match up with either the ideal manipulation of the masses desired by the EU bureaucrats, the forelock tugging subservience desired by both major Brit parties, or the ideal labor market dynamics of whatever economic school, it can have a practical use.

    Once again, from the outside it seems that Britain is circling the porcelain bowl at an increasing rate. Ideal theory not only will not be given a chance to work; even if it was there is not sufficient time for any changes to take effect before Britain either loses all sovereignty to the EU, falls to Islam, or starts to imitate Zimbabwe both economically and politically in whatever combination or order.

    Mind you, as an American, I am not bragging or feeling superior. Replace the EU with the UN, and add the prospect of the southern border collapsing and half the population of Mexico along with the drug gangs who helped bring about the collapse moving north en-masse, and you have us.

    Returning to the issue at point, there is no prospect of normal political means, including elections, changing the scene in either of our countries in a timely manner. While the Westminister system has its faults from our point of view, it does have an option of tossing the incumbent lop-earred duds out and replacing them with another group of lops. If there is enough unrest, politicians will try to save their own skins by turning on their figurehead. If the unrest is great enough, those trying to save their skins will fail too. The Chinese character for “crisis” is an amalgamation of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity”.

    Might I submit that it would be in the interest of your country [given the fatal path it is on] to encourage the rage amongst your workers [and I do differentiate them from the welfare leisure class created by the State] and trying to metastize the unrest instead of analysing the theology involved. If it would be a desirable end to waken the British [or English, Scots, Welsh, Manx, et. al.] spirit from the Socialist nightmare, then this may be the only opportunity to do so.

    I will note that this is not anything like a guaranteed or detailed plan. The idea is to create sufficient chaos to introduce an opportunity for a changed condition, by stepping away from the abattoir door. What happens afterwards will be in your hands, which is not where Britain’s fate resides now.

    I shall now don Kevlar and Nomex shorts, because I suspect that more than a little bit of flame will be aimed in my direction shortly. Or, you maybe you’ll just ignore me because I am merely a bloody, albeit slant-eyed, Yank.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Relugus

    I think we should sack all UK bankers and employ foreign ones.

    British bankers can go sod off to Asia.

  • Miguel Guzman

    Well I agree with this plan.I’m a latino born and raised in the U.S. I wanted to get a job in England as a stockbroker and they wouldn’t take me and I was a stockbroker in America.If the Europeans and Canadians can discriminate why can’t we in American.Other countries protect there citizens jobs why can’t we!

  • Miguel Guzman

    Well I agree with this plan.I’m a latino born and raised in the U.S. I wanted to get a job in England as a stockbroker and they wouldn’t take me and I was a stockbroker in America.If the Europeans and Canadians can discriminate why can’t we in American.Other countries protect there citizens jobs why can’t we!