A study published by the Trades Union Congress on the 14 July 2003 entitled Overworked, Underpaid and Over Here says that there could be up to 2.6 million migrant workers in Britain under the control of unscrupulous "gangmasters" and unregulated recruitment agencies and employers.
However, the purpose of the TUC report was not (surprise, surprise) to challenge the need for migrant labour in the UK in the first place, or to fight for better terms and conditions for indigenous British workers, but rather to bleat on and on, in typically politically-correct fashion, about the terms and conditions under which the migrant workers are employed, and to try to make such terms and conditions better.
But as this article argues, if the TUC were doing its job properly, these "migrant workers" needn't be here in the first place.
There are an estimated 2.6 million migrant workers in Britain, nearly one in ten of all employees.
The number of work permits issued to migrants this year is expected to increase to 200,000, which is more than double the figure seven years ago. Migrants allowed in under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme increased to 25,000 last year.
The Government believes up to 5,000 gangmasters may be supplying 75,000 workers a year -- many of whom are here illegally -- to farms and packing houses.
This article addresses the issue of migrant labour in the British agricultural and horticultural industries.
THE SEASONAL AGRICULTURAL WORKERS SCHEME
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme provides an army of 25,000 young people every year, mainly from Eastern Europe.
This is up from 10,000, and there are plans to raise this figure to 50,000. Workers can take agricultural employment for six months, after which it is illegal to stay.
However, there are no official figures on how many remain by either claiming asylum or disappearing.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the appalling state of Britain's border control, there is no official way of recording if any of them actually do leave the country once their time is up.
This entry of foreign workers should, however, be distinguished from illegal immigration, or permanent legal immigration.
These people are short-stay seasonal workers who are here on a temporary work permit and who should be leaving at the end of their legal contract.
In that sense, they are not "immigrants" as such. They are not necessarily intending to make their lives here. They are all counted in and they should all be counted out, if the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme were to check properly.
On top of this army of workers who, at least, enter legally, there are those who enter the country illegally, and are "employed" by gang masters in the black economy.
FARMERS UNABLE TO MAKE A DISTINCTION
Gangs are employed by farmers who require Field Hands for vegetable and fruit picking. No British farmer wants to knowingly employ illegal labour. However, if the farmer employs the labourers via a gangmaster then he is not in a position to know, or to be able to check, the immigration status of the gang workers and he has nothing to go on -- other than trust in the gangmaster, and his intuition.
Workers are paid, sometimes above the minimum hourly rate, for their services. The gangmaster then takes his cost and margin, and pays the worker the rest. Gangmasters, however, are not required to register their business before they can operate. Consequently, there is an opportunity for unscrupulous gangmasters to exploit their workers, and to use illegal labour. Some of the reports have been saying that some gangs are being paid only around £1/hour.
FROM WHERE DO THE WORKERS COME?
According to a report in The Times of 24 July 2003 (Valerie Elliott and Adam Fesco, "Rich pickings for Triad gangs from farm labourers", p. 4) most gangmasters who traditionally supply casual seasonal labour to farmers, are white British men, although there are also a number of established Pakistanis and Russians. Many of the workers are legally supplied from Eastern Europe.
But there is also evidence that Brazilian gangs have been bringing in labourers from former Portuguese colonies, while Russian and East European Mafias are also attempting to muscle in on the illegal market. Chinese crime gangs, based around Kings Lynn -- which apparently has a Chinese population which has leapt from 300 a few months ago to 5,000 and growing -- are also exploiting the situation.
A CLEARLY ILLEGAL SITUATION IS BEING TOLERATED
"Clearly if you have thousands of Chinese workers in this area, then the majority of them must be here illegally", a senior immigration official was reported as saying. "It's not something that has just happened. It has been planned. This takes a lot of money."
As a result of concerns, "Operation Gangmaster" has been set up, involving the Treasury, Inland Revenue, police, immigration, the Department of Work and Pensions and Health and Safety officials, but according to David Curry, Tory MP, it is "a surreal operation".
He says, "Each department seems to be doing their own thing. There are no targets. Yet people are evading tax and being exploited."
Yes, "evading tax" and "being exploited" are two politically correct, and safe, issues to talk about.
But here are three more issues to consider:
1. These people shouldn't be getting into the country illegally in the first place.
2. Why aren't the immigration authorities and police walking down the High Street in Kings Lynn, arresting such obvious illegals, detaining them and marching them to a chartered flight booked for Beijing? Oh that's right, China "refuses to take them back without documentation."
3. Available jobs should be filled legally and on decent wages, by indigenous British people -- and our government should do whatever is necessary to ensure that is possible.
WE NEED A SEASONAL FARM RECRUITMENT PROGRAMME FOR BRITAIN
There is, we're told, an "inability" to recruit Seasonal Field Hands from Britain. But why?
Are we really saying there are no young people in our towns and cities who wouldn't enjoy a few weeks picking strawberries in the Kent countryside, or vegetables in the fens of West Norfolk?
If we can import workers, legally, from abroad, on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme -- and as the report below indicates, pay them very well indeed! -- then why is it not possible to encourage people from our own towns and cities to have access to such jobs, first.
One reason is that -- without a programme in place -- many farmers can't afford to pay a wage which is better than that available on Social Security.
Another is that there is no infrastructure in place to advertise the jobs and recruit the people in Britain.
Think about that! The infrastructure exists to recruit them legally from Eastern Europe, and pay them very well indeed, but not from East Anglia or Essex!
In reality, there should be no reason why we can't have programmes aimed at recruiting teenagers, or anyone, from the large towns and cities throughout Britain, for summer and seasonal work in the country.
We need to establish a government body whose job it is to organise a programme which will co-ordinate Farm Recruitment by publicising opportunities in schools, colleges, universities and job centres throughout Britain -- and which will pay a wage attractive enough to make it financially worthwhile for participants.
If such a programme could be properly co-ordinated and funded, then there is no doubt that a great deal -- if not all -- of the seasonal labour required in British agriculture could be provided by indigenous British citizens. The programme may even be over-subscribed!
Such a programme is a natural and intrinsic element of a National Food and Farming Strategy which has Food Sovereignty -- the ability of the country to feed itself independently -- as a core principle.
It is also a good way to heal the growing division between city and country (see Sovereignty, July 2002).
Indeed, farm work -- in certain areas which have been deemed safe -- could even be incorporated into the school curriculum for certain courses. Although no doubt there is presently some EU ruling against "under-age labour", which would need to be repealed or specifically modified.
IN ADDITION, WE NEED.....
Better checks at both entry and departure. As far as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme is concerned: On entry, no criminal record checks are made, nor any check if any other member of the worker's family has claimed asylum previously. Moreover, there is a need to be able to ensure they have left when their work permits expire.
Illegal immigrants to be fast-tracked back.
The TUC to use its undoubted influence to argue for real changes to the British and world economic system that would ensure people could earn a living wage where they live, instead of having to migrate. As Sovereignty's Declaration of Moral Principles for a Sustainable Immigration Programme states (see November 2002): "It is moral to strive for a decent standard of living where you live. It is moral to help others achieve it, in order that they do not have to migrate for economic purposes." This would help transform the lives of working people world-wide. Instead, the TUC promotes politically correct immigration into Britain of foreign workers for jobs which could and should be filled by indigenous British labour.
Farmers to be in a position to offer the job to local, or British, labour first, and to be encouraged, and have access to financial programmes which will enable them so to do. Wages should be on a par with average local wages. The challenge is to ensure it is possible for British farmers to find and hire indigenous labour, and still make a margin.
Break the power of the gangmaster industry altogether. Is it right that private individuals should have the ability to recruit cheap labour from all over the world to work in this country? Moreover, half the gang workers in this country are thought to be illegal. Such a concerted assault on the gangmaster industry can only happen, however, if alternative sources of labour are going to be provided through the sort of government initiatives which we are advocating.
As a first step, gangmasters to be required to register their business before they can legally operate. Shaun Leavey, the Regional Director of the NFU in the South East says that, "Employment agencies are officially required to operate under the Employment Agency Act, but they do not have to register to set up in business, and policing of the Act is alleged to be virtually non-existent. This must not become a way of getting round the law if registration is introduced." (Letter in The Daily Telegraph, 22 July 2003)
And perhaps the most difficult step of all : British people to stand up and say they no longer want these illegal immigrants in their midst, that these people don't belong here, and China, or whoever else, had better take them back, "with or without documentation" and that we, the indigenous people of this country, will only vote for a political party which has the courage to make that plain!