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Miliband plan to target exploitation of workers

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Published: 10:45 GMT, Apr 18, 2015 |
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A Labour government would set up a task force to target firms who encourage low skilled migration and undermine the minimum wage, Ed Miliband will say. The unit would slap heavier fines on firms that exploit low paid workers, he will say in a speech on immigration. The Conservatives said nothing Mr Miliband was proposing would help to control immigration and vowed to change EU free movement rules. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have outlined plans to boost apprenticeships. And David Cameron will pledge to make pensions campaigner Ros Altmann a minister for consumer protection

On a visit to the north west of England, Mr Miliband will repeat his admission that Labour has made mistakes in immigration policy and say it is an issue the next government must deal with. But he will warn that the Conservatives will “never be able to tackle immigration properly because they don’t understand that an epidemic of exploitation is driving up the number of low-skill workers who come here”. Describing people living in cramped conditions, paid below the minimum wage, he will add: “It’s exploitation of the worst kind. But it isn’t just bad for those people directly affected, it drives down standards for everybody else, undercutting local workers, and making life harder for responsible employers.”

‘Crucial contribution’

The new task force – or “Home Office Enforcement Unit” – would have more than 100 staff “to root out the illegal exploitation which undercuts wages and conditions for local workers”, says Labour. It would bring together teams from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and specialist police units with extra Home Office staff. The coalition has increased penalties on employers who pay less than the legal minimum and has placed a cap on non-EU migration. UKIP has said the the new policy on gangmasters is necessary only because of Labour’s lax control of Britain’s borders in the past.

But Steve Murphy, general secretary of the building workers union Ucatt, said: “This commitment demonstrates that Labour is serious about ending the misery caused by the exploitation of migrant workers and rightly targets the employers who profit through the mistreatment of workers.” The Labour leader will also say the party would empower all the UK’s healthcare regulators to require all health professionals to have a “sufficient knowledge of English” before they could care for patients. The coalition government has given some health regulators the power to impose language tests, but Labour says the process has been too slow and does not cover all staff, such as paramedics, social workers and physiotherapists.

Mr Miliband will say that everyone knows that people from overseas have made a “crucial contribution” to the NHS, but that “everyone in Britain should know how to speak English… especially those who work in public services in public-facing roles, and nowhere is that more true than in our NHS”. Home Office Minister James Brokenshire, for the Conservatives, said: “Nothing Ed Miliband is proposing today would help control immigration. Labour sent out ‘search parties for people’ and under them net migration increased more than five-fold.” He said the Conservatives had cracked down on illegal working and would seek to change EU free movement rules if they won the election.

The Liberal Democrats also mention English language in their manifesto, saying people who cannot speak good English and want to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance should have to attend courses. The Conservatives say EU migrants should have to wait four years before they can claim certain benefits or social housing and that child benefit payments should not be made for children living outside the UK. Recently, some Labour figures complained about the party’s messages on immigration. David Lammy warned that the party should not be “trying to out-UKIP UKIP”.

Pensions help

The Conservatives’ key announcement on Saturday is that pensions campaigner Ros Altmann would be made a Tory peer and given responsibility for financial education and consumer protection. David Cameron says he wants the “country’s leading expert” on these issues to be at the heart of government, helping give people “more power to save, to access their pension, to pass their pension on to their children”. The Liberal Democrats focused on apprenticeships, with a promise the party would double the number of employers offering apprenticeships to young people. Business Secretary Vince Cable said this would mean 360,000 firms offering on-the-job training. Companies would be offered exemptions from National Insurance and apprenticeship grants as extra incentives. The policy would mean the creation of “more apprenticeship starts per year than Germany”, he said.