12:03
Wednesday, 6
November 2019


Debate
12:03

Good news! Employers are struggling to fill low-wage jobs

by Ed West

Fantastic news from the Evening Standard: thousands of jobs risk going unfilled unless a proposed minimum salary for foreign workers is reduced to £20,000, a coalition of employers said today.

Mayor Sadiq Khan, addressing the annual London Conference today, was expected to say: ‘We simply cannot afford to turn our backs on those who want to come to London to live, study or work.’ He is also set to warn against the UK becoming ‘a tax haven off the coast of Europe’ with lower taxes and fewer regulations, adding: ‘We need a national government that wants to create a strong, mixed economy, where the proceeds of growth are shared more evenly.’
- Evening Standard

This is a report in the “Crops are rotting in the field” genre commonly found on the BBC and Guardian, in which employers are given a platform to complain about the lack of cheap labour available due to immigration restrictions of various sorts.

In many cases those jobs highlighted by the Standard won’t go “unfilled” — the employers will just offer higher wages, something they’re very keen not to do but will if necessary. The economic impact of immigration on native wages is a highly disputed area; the effect is probably small and most keenly felt among those at the lower end.

One thing we can say with certainty is that employers benefit from the ready availability of cheap workers, and that their interests might not necessarily align with those of society as a whole. Believe it or not, but employers, when they say the country needs to invite in more foreign workers, might be somewhat motivated by financial self-interest.

Their interests do now align with progressives — the BBC, Guardian and, increasingly, George Osborne’s Standard — and so it makes sense to take the same side on this issue, even if your average Guardian reader and the people in charge of the Institute of Directors might have somewhat different visions of the ideal society.

Of course all political alliances are a bit incoherent, but it does seem odd for the mayor to urge further low-pay immigration while warning about ‘Singapore-on-Thames’. Whatever the realities of the Asian city-state, when British people talk of Singapore-on-Thames they mean a low-tax, ultra-Thatcherite, highly unequal dystopia/utopia, depending on whether you’re in favour or not.

This future depends on a ready supply of cheap labour, allowing for a financial service industry to power ahead while an underclass of homeless and in-work poor grows, politically powerless and too demoralised to demand a more egalitarian society. Which, if you look around London today, is pretty much what we have already after 20 years of the city being open to the world.

Many people voted Leave because they wanted higher wages, a more egalitarian society and city centres that don’t look like something from the original Robocop. Whether or not they will get that if Leavers are in charge is a matter of opinion, but we can be certain they won’t get it with Remainers running things.


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20th November 2019